Motorists cruising along Highway 66 and the Parkway in Pigeon Forge observed an unusual sight Sunday morning as more than 2,500 Santa Clauses ran along the highway in the second annual Santa Hustle. The record turnout was more than three times last year’s turnout of 800 runners.
The runners were dressed in holiday garb including Santa Tee-shirts, and caps. Some wore complete Santa outfits complete with beards. In the mix were a handful of elves, reindeer and an occasional Grinch in one of the most unique holiday-themed events of the year. Holiday music played as runners stretched and prepared for the marathon in the shadows of 30 foot inflatable Santas and reindeer.
Runners took part in either the half marathon of 13.1 miles or a 5k run/walk and received a Santa hat, beard and a customized shirt to wear while running, and were treated to cookie and candy cane stations along the race course. The stations were manned by volunteers dressed as elves. Following the race, the holiday party continued with a huge after party at the resort, featuring milk and cookies and plenty of holiday music.
“It was a beautiful morning for the race and we enjoyed playing host to such a fun and unique event once again,” said Steve Cruz, General Manager of Wilderness at the Smokies. “The growth from last year to this year was incredible and we are already looking forward to next year’s event, which we anticipate will be even larger.”
Along with their holiday cheer, runners and spectators were asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots in Sevier County, the chosen charity for this year’s race. Proceeds from entry fees paid by participants will benefit local charities such as Toys for Tots and other charitable organizations that will benefit the less fortunate.
“After hearing of the Toys for Tots shortage here in Sevier County, we wanted to get involved and try to help as many local kids as possible,” added Cruz. “Hopefully our donation along with what was collected from the race will help in putting a nice dent in their current shortage.”
By Michael Williams