One year a group of young men ran while dressed as America Indians wearing only loin cloths. There’s a family that regularly competes while looking like the staples of a Thanksgiving dinner – everything from plump turkeys to round, red cranberries.
Back in the early 1990s, one runner wore a suit and a President Bill Clinton mask and he was accompanied by a phalanx of dark-suited Secret Service men in dark glasses.
More recently, a gorilla and a banana have run side by side.
But none of these characters holds the attention year after year the way Flipperman does.
Just as Superman was the alter ego of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent and Batman was the creation of philanthropist Bruce Wayne, Flipperman is the Thanksgiving transformation of Springfield police Lt. Brett Bauer, a veteran of nearly 25 years in law enforcement.
While other super-heroes became the bigger-than-life manifestations of their originators, Flipperman is something of a diffusement of Bauer’s everyday life as a cop.
But before he ever wore his badge, he already was wearing his swim cap and flippers at the Trot.
A few years after he graduated from Wayne High School – and after he had begun competing in triathlons and other endurance and distance events – Bauer was intrigued when he saw TV coverage of a friend competing in the Turkey Trot.
And in 1992, he decided to start spending his Thanksgiving mornings in Miamisburg.
Noticing some runners wore costumes, he decided to revive a look from a high school Halloween celebration that featured the flippers his parents had bought him for a family trip to Hawaii a couple of years earlier.
When he first wore them to the Turkey Trot – originally duct taping them to aqua socks, then lacing them to running shoes and finally bolting them into place – people didn’t know quite what to make of him.
They dubbed him Scuba Steve, then Frogman and finally Flipperman.
Greg Bell – who co-directs the Turkey Trot with Margaret Hurley – said people are drawn to Flipperman: “He’s quite a character. He’s very encouraging and he used to be a pretty good runner.”
Bauer knows that: “The thing I’ve heard the most from people was that they always were interested in where I finished in relation to them. They’d say, ‘I didn’t get you last year, but I’ll get you this year.’” And race organizers decided to play off that this year when it was determined the Turkey Trot would only be run virtually.
To keep the event entertaining and add some competitiveness, various contests have been added to the five-mile and one-mile races that are held:
Which virtual competitor runs in the hottest setting? The coldest? The most challenging course? Who has the best costume? And then there’s a “Who Can Beat Flipperman” challenge?
Bauer, who has two damaged discs in his back that are painful and have made training difficult, still hopes to give a competitive showing he said.
The names of those who go faster than him will be included in a drawing for a $50 gift card to Runners Plus.
Flipperman, the alter ego of Springfield police lieutenant Brett Bauer, has been a crowd-favorite runner among the 8,500 to 9,000 who compete in the in the Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving morning in Miamisburg. This year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the race is being run virtually and will feature a “Who Can Beat Flipperman?” contest. Bauer, a Wayne High School grad and one-time triathlete, has run the Turkey Trot wearing flippers, wet suit and swim cap every year since 1992. CONTRIBUTED
As the organizers began planning the event in February – just as the deadly coronavirus began to spread across this country – they had to consider the safety of the thousands of annual runners, the 300 or so volunteers each year and all the spectators.
“We put together a five question survey and sent it to everybody who competed last year,” Bell said. “We asked things like if they’d be willing to do the event virtually and the responses were amazing. More than 1,500 people got back to us. One third said they definitely would run a virtual race and another third said maybe.
“Right then, we knew then we had to keep the race alive.”
Competitors pay a $25 entry fee, so to make a virtual competition more enticing, runners and walkers could chart out their own course and they could complete their race anytime from Wednesday to noon this Sunday, Nov. 29.
Times would be recorded on the honor system, but rather than naming a race winner, there would be all those other contests.
And to get a taste of normalcy, an hourlong Spotify stream has been posted on the race’s Facebook page and its website – miamisburgtrot.com – where runners can hear everything from a music playlist to a welcome by new Miamisburg mayor, Michelle Collins, an interview with Flipperman and the National Anthem sung as it is each year by Bob Moats, himself a runner and the longtime bartender at Jay’s Seafood in the Oregon District.
The Turkey Trot plays to familiarity and family traditions like the four generations of Greg Bell’s family taking part this year, from his 85-year-old dad, Bob, down to Bob’s great grandson, 10-year-old Braydon Dafler.
The race has dabbled in virtual connections before.
Back in 2006, Navy lieutenant commander Mike Pfarrer ran the five miler while serving in Baghdad, Iraq and noted that instead of passing the famed Baum Opera House in downtown Miamisburg, he had gone by a palace built by Saddam Hussein.
Two years later Ron Rearick and 20 members of his unit from Wright Patterson Air Force Base ran their version of the race while at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan as planes took off all around them.
The virtual response has been so overwhelming this year – 3,842 people signed up to compete – that Bell said when things do return to normal in the future, the Turkey Trot likely will continue to include virtual racing for those who can’t get back to run the Trot like they once did.
And wherever it’s run, it means another tradition stays intact.
“It has to do with Thanksgiving guilt,” Bell laughed. “You can eat more afterwards because you know you trimmed off a couple of hundred calories in the morning.”
Running by chance
Bauer’s foray into running began by chance.
“We used to have this little bookstore in Huber Heights and when I was like 14, I took an issue of Triathlete Magazine off the rack. I think it was the November 1986 issue and it’s the first magazine I ever read cover to cover including the advertisements. I thought, ‘Wow, this is different! I want to try this!’”
The following September – with no real training – he did his first triathlon at Hueston Woods.
While he said he finished near last, he was second best in his age group and was inspired by the belief that no one else at his school “had done something like I’d just done.”
Over the next couple of decades, he fashioned a limited career as a triathlete and distance runner and in 2007 he finally got his then 58-year-old father, Robert, to run a duathlon and the Turkey Trot with him.
Springfield Police Lt. Brett Bauer. CONTRIBUTED
In 1996 he joined the Springfield police force and rose up the ranks. One of his disc injuries came after tackling a fleeing suspect and enduring a tussle to make the arrest.
In 50 days, the 48-year-old Bauer is retiring from the Springfield Police Division. He’ll have his 25 years in.
He and wife, Amy, are raising four children, between the ages of 18 and 11, and that means he’ll eventually need to get another job, but he said he may first spend “a year out in the woods, backpacking and bushcrafting.”
He’s especially drawn to sparsely populated Vinton County in southeastern Ohio and Zaleski State Forest.
He plans to keep doing the Turkey Trot and next year will be his 30th as Flipperman.
“With my back like it is, running on pavement now is just a horrible ordeal,” he said. “So after 30, I might switch. I’ll still have some costume, but I’ll be walking …
“… Maybe with snowshoes.”