Naheda Nassan, a 14-year-old student at St. John the Apostle Catholic School, has participated in Charlie Normile’s Turkey Trot: Race for the Fallen for the past four years. This year, she was chosen to serve as the race director, as the Sandbridge-based event celebrates its fifth year.
Created in 2011 by Gaela Normile, the Turkey Trot races commemorate the loss of her brother, Charlie Normile. Charlie Normile was two years old when he passed away in May of 2011. After the race’s first year, the Normile family suffered another tragic loss when Gaela’s Normile’s sibling James died in a car accident in April 2012 at the age of 16.
Gaela Normile has since gone on to college and is unable to continue planning the yearly event. Now, her mother, Elise Normile, chooses a current or former student to serve as the race director every year. Naheda Nassan was in Elise’s second, sixth, and seventh grade classes at St. John the Apostle, though Elise now teaches at Christ the King Catholic School in Norfolk.
“She’s kind of become like family to me,” Nassan said about her former teacher. “I’m really close to her.”
As the race director, Nassan has worked tirelessly to gain volunteers and sponsors for this year’s events. She is in charge of making contact with previous participants to keep them updated on this year’s details. Nassan also seeks toy donations for one of the event’s chosen charities, the Noblemen’s Toy Drive. After reaching out to former sponsors, she knew that she had to find new sponsors, as well.
“She sat down and Googled all of the businesses in Red Mill,” said Michelle Nassan, Naheda Nassan’s mother. “Then she and her friends stuffed envelopes with sponsorship forms and brought them to me to send out.”
Because of Naheda Nassan’s work, she garnered over 15 sponsors to contribute to the Turkey Trot.
“Planning the race has taught me leadership, how to take charge and how to get things done,” Nassan said.
This year, there will be a five kilometer race, a one-mile fun run in which canine participants are encouraged, and a 26-meter Gobble Wobble for runners five years of age and under.
The races take place on Thanksgiving Day in Sandbridge.
“I like taking part in my community, and giving back anything I can,” Nassan said.
In previous years, the event has drawn up to 600 participants in the event’s three races. This year, Nassan said she hopes to exceed that number.
Along with the Noblemen’s Toy Drive, the Normiles also chose to support families of fallen heroes through the Navy SEAL Foundation. All proceeds from the Turkey Trot are given to both of these charities.
“Elise chose the toy drive because Charlie was just a baby, so she wanted to give back to other kids,” Michelle Nassan said.
Though the Normile family has suffered great losses, the event seems to draw the community of Turkey Trot participants together.
As a former student and return race-runner, Naheda Nassan describes the bond that she feels with the Normiles.
“Sometimes I’ll babysit her daughter,” Naheda said, speaking of Lola. “She just turned six. We’ve become like sisters.”
This year’s Turkey Trot: Race for the Fallen takes place on Thursday, Nov. 26, beginning at 9 a.m. with a live disk jockey and costume contest.
Registration for the events is open until Wednesday, Nov. 25. Participants can register online and get more information at charliesrun.com.
Correction: The Nassan family’s name was spelled incorrectly in the initial post. We regret the error.