RICHLAND, Wash. — Kennewick Cheers erupted along the Columbia River Thursday morning as Sarah Palin and her large family of “Rogue Runners” approached the start line for the annual Turkey Trot.
Both fun run participants and spectators who’d been waiting more than an hour in the bitter cold for a glimpse of the former Republican vice-presidential candidate rushed to snap her picture with cameras and cell phones.
Palin, pushing a double jogger stroller, smiled and shook hands as she moved through the crowd, saying “We’ll be in the back.” There, the former Alaska governor and best-selling author signed baseballs, T-shirts and copies of Going Rogue: An American Life while hugging excited supporters.
“That made our day,” said Gary Waddoups of Kennewick, who came to the park with wife Cynthia hoping to meet Palin. The couple had a brief exchange with Palin and took a few pictures before moving away from the crush of people.
“Her reaction was so genuine. You wouldn’t get that out of other people,” Waddoups said.
“Woohoo. I’m so excited,” added Cynthia Waddoups, who also shook former First Lady Laura Bush’s hand during a Tri-City visit.
Palin arrived in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday night to spend time with relatives through the Thanksgiving holiday. She is taking a break from her book tour, but will resume her public appearances with a book signing in Richland from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Palin had announced on Twitter that she would be running the 5k race organized by the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the Red Cross.
However, she didn’t finish the race, opting to leave the course early to avoid more crowds at the end. About 40 minutes into the run, people gathered at the finish line to get more pictures of Palin started to learn that she was gone.
Executive Director Jeanne Jelke didn’t have the final numbers this morning, but guessed that at least 3,000 people participated in the charity event. Jelke wasn’t sure if Palin’s presence drew more runners and walkers or just onlookers, but was thankful for the national publicity.
“It just blows me away. We’re just trying to get it out to the Mid-Columbia and now we got the whole nation wanting to come,” she said. “Whether we have a celebrity next year or not, (the Turkey Trot) is going to continue to grow. It’s becoming a part of people’s Thanksgiving morning tradition.”
Palin walked up to the start line at 8:43 a.m. and people began clapping and cheering as word quickly spread that she had arrived.
She sported an orange T-shirt with the words, “Alaska Grown.” The couple dozen family and friends that joined her wore the same shirt or a white one with “Rogue Runners, A Proud Family” over a picture of Palin.
The race started at 8:55 a.m., 10 minutes late. Palin continued to greet people as she made her way onto the course.
Kennewick police Officer Michelle Pitts said there were no problems reported at the park. Both Pitts and Officer Drew Sneyd were in charge of crowd control around Palin, and decided to run with her group to make sure all went well.
“It took a little longer to get moving in the beginning because everybody wants to say ’Hi’ and ask questions,” Pitts said. “It was great she took the time to do that. It was incredible and people were excited.”
Towards the end of the race, the officers asked Palin what she wanted to do. Palin decided to divert off the course and head back to their cars so the family could get to their Thanksgiving dinner, Pitts said.
Palin will be signing copies of Going Rogue at the Hastings bookstore at 1425 George Washington Way.
Hastings officials say she’ll only sign books bought at a Hastings store, with a limit of two per person. A printed Hastings receipt must be shown.