Cancer survivor will return to the Turkey Trot for special tradition

With fourteen thousand runners taking part in the YMCA Turkey Trot each year, plenty of Western New Yorkers have memories of sprinting down Delaware Avenue on Thanksgiving morning. But few remember when the route was two loops around Delaware Park. Eighty-two-year-old John Bruno does though. He used to run the race with his track team at Kensington High School in the 1950’s.

“Once I didn’t finish,” John said at his home in Williamsville this week.  “I wasn’t the same all year. Until the next Turkey Trot.” Luckily John recovered from that experience, and he has been able to stomach getting himself to the starting line each Thanksgiving. He doesn’t run anymore, but he cheers everyone on before they take off. And he always wears his lucky letter sweater from Kensington High. “We don’t know if it’s an omen or something, but anyone who’s touched that letter sweater on that day, has finished the race.” he said.  John’s nephew, Dave Novak, is one of those people. This year will be Dave’s thirty-first Turkey Trot. He has a personal tradition of giving away his t-shirts to loved ones after the races. Three years ago, in 2011, his shirt was to his Uncle John.

“I got to the Y that Monday, to get my T-shirt to give it to him,” Novak said. “And sure enough on Thanksgiving morning he was ready to go with his T-shirt on.” John may have looked ready to go, but in reality he wasn’t going anywhere. That’s because he was at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, battling brain cancer and recovering from surgery. “After the race was over, it was a top priority to me to wish all my friends a happy Thanksgiving and get right over there,” Novak said. When he arrived, Dave completed the mission that had motivated him for the whole run: pinning his race number onto his uncle’s chest. “When he came in, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Bruno remembers.

“We were just happy that he was in good spirits,” Dave said. “We took some really nice pictures pinning on the number. It just kind of turned the page. It was really the start of a true distance runner mentality. It was the start of a long return back to good health.”

It was a long run, but John is feeling much better now. Well enough to return to the starting line at the Turkey Trot this year. “He is just an inspiration to all of us,” his nephew said. “He’s an inspiration on Thanksgiving morning. We’re just thrilled that he’s around and all his great stories.”

So when you’re lacing up your sneakers outside the Y, look for John Bruno in his green and yellow sweater. Maybe he’ll even let you touch it for good luck.


Additional information about John Bruno, in the words of his nephew Dave:

John J Bruno was born on June 6th, 1933. He is 82. He is of Italian descent. His father (my Grandfather) immigrated from Italy in the early 1900’s and was a Steel Worker at Republic Steel in South Buffalo.

John J Bruno was one of three siblings. (2 sisters, 1 living). They grew up on Carl St. (East Side) in the 1930’s through 50’s.

He graduated from Kensington High School in the mid-50’s. Besides being a runner, he was also an avid baseball player.

His profession was education. He earned a Doctorate (at UB) and was a Professor in Education at Buffalo State College until the early 90’s. Essentially, he taught the teachers of Western NY. That is; many WNY teachers were part of his classes.

Prior to earning his degrees, he served in the military (Army). As an accomplished musician. He played clarinet for the US Army Band in New York City in the early 60’s.

He has been married to his wife, Patricia, for more than 55 years. They lived in Kenmore for many years, raising four sons, who all still live in Western NY.

His most accomplished feat as a musician were the years he played for the Buffalo Swing (jazz/swing music). That included an appearance in the Robert Redford movie (shot in Buffalo),”The Natural”. He also played in several jazz bands.

The event at Roswell Park (2011) involved his recovery from brain cancer. He had recently had surgery and was in recovery during Thanksgiving. As a runner for many years, I often give away my t-shirts to everyone. For this event, I made sure he had the t-shirt in advance of the run. He wore it on Thanksgiving Day and was hoping to view a portion of the race from the hospital, but it’s too far from Delaware Road. After completing that run (my 28th (in 2011)), I went from the post race party to his hospital bed and pinned the number on him. The staff at Roswell prepared a meal for his family and me. On Thanksgiving, Roswell was pretty empty and with a skeletal staff. I was very appreciative of their kindness.

I will close by stating the intent of my letter to the YMCA was to thank them for helping us with his recovery. The event itself was something he always supported, and on that day, he truly felt a part of it.

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