KENNEWICK -- Cynthia and Gary Waddoups weren't shy to admit Thursday that they were on a mission to meet Sarah Palin.
Dressed in jeans and coats, the Kennewick couple stood near the start line of the Turkey Trot hoping to see the woman they want back on the campaign trail for a run at the White House.
The Waddoupses weren't running or walking in the annual charity race. But Palin, in town to visit relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday, had pre-registered to join 3,000 others on the course, and her notoriety attracted a mass of onlookers in Columbia Park.
"Sorry, we're stalking Sarah Palin, I'm afraid," said Gary Waddoups.
"In a big way," his wife added.
The Waddoupses have been watching Palin's Facebook page for announcements about her public appearances and upcoming Richland book signing. And it was all politics that drew them out early on the bitter cold holiday because "just being near her" was like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Their excitement bubbled over once the Waddoupses realized that Palin and her large family of "Rogue Runners" were approaching just minutes before the race was scheduled to start.
"Let's go," Cynthia Waddoups shouted to her husband, as they joined a rush of people wanting to snap a picture of the former Alaska governor and running mate to Republican John McCain in the last presidential election.
Cell phones and cameras waved in the air as the crowd erupted with cheering and clapping.
"That's going on my Facebook (page)," one woman was overheard saying after getting Palin's picture.
Then a group of people parted ways to let Palin and her extended family walk through.
"We'll be in the back," Palin said as she pushed a double jogger stroller. That's where the best-selling author signed baseballs, T-shirts and copies of Going Rogue: An American Life while hugging fun-run participants and spectators.
Gary Waddoups emerged from the crush of people around Palin with a big smile on his face.
"It was great. I got a really good picture. We didn't fight our way in too aggressively," he said. "It's exciting. There's just something about her, the way that she can articulate exactly the way we feel about the country."
Cynthia Waddoups' wish was fulfilled when she handed Palin two pairs of cashmere/wool socks she'd found in Walla Walla. One pair was for Palin's son, Trig, and she suggested the other pair could go to grandson, Tripp.
Palin immediately put the socks on Trig, then grasped Waddoups' hand and talked with her before moving on.
"She was very nice," said Cynthia Waddoups, who also shook the hand of former first lady Laura Bush during a Tri-City Republican fundraiser.
"That made our day," Gary Waddoups said of Palin. "Her reaction was so genuine. You wouldn't get that out of other people."
Palin arrived in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday night to spend time with family through the Thanksgiving holiday. Her grandparents came to Richland in 1943 and both of her parents attended Tri-City schools.
She is taking a break from her book tour, but will resume her public appearances Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.
Palin had announced on Twitter that she would be running the 5k race organized by the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the Red Cross.
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, word started trickling out to people gathered at the finish line that she was gone.
Executive Director Jeanne Jelke wasn't sure if Palin's presence drew more runners and walkers or just onlookers, but was thankful for the national publicity.
Jelke quoted Palin as saying, "I hope the Red Cross makes a lot of money."
Early estimates show the organization raised $45,000 after expenses to support local disaster services, health and safety services and service to armed forces, Jelke said.
"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."
The Turkey Trot's overall male winner was Andrew Gonzales for the second straight year, and Jen Puzey was the overall female winner.
Jennifer and Brian Oulman of Spokane got up at 4:30 a.m. Thursday to make the race on their way to a hunting cabin for the Thanksgiving holiday. This was their first time in the Kennewick run, but it's a tradition to do some turkey trot so then they "can eat guilt-free all day long," Brian Oulman said.
The Oulmans said their costumes get more creative each year as they participate in fun charity events. Thursday, the buzz was all about their hats, which looked like turkeys pulled right out of the oven.
Jennifer Oulman said if given the opportunity to ask Palin a question, she would say, "We need to know if she likes white or dark meat."
Kevin Wheelwright of Kennewick was registered for the Turkey Trot well before he got the news that Palin was going to be running too. However, as a supporter of Palin, he couldn't wait to have friend Cheryl Irwin of Richland take a picture of him with Palin and her family before the run's start.
"It's nice that (Palin's) doing something healthy and it's going to bring out extra people," he said.
Palin sported an orange T-shirt with the words, "Alaska Grown." The couple of 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. Richland police assisted by blocking off traffic at the west end of 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."
Toward the end of the race, the officers asked Palin what she wanted to do. Palin decided to head back to their cars so the family could get to their Thanksgiving dinner, Pitts said.
After the race, Stacy Thompson proudly showed friends her picture taken with Palin in the middle of the run. Thompson's mother went to school with Palin's mother, she said.
"It was a really unforgettable moment. I think she's a great American, and her values line up with my values," said Thompson of West Richland, who wore a Rosie the Riveter pin with the words, "Women like Palin make America strong."
"We don't get people of her caliber here very often. She's just a down-home person ... and it's a great place for her to be."
Palin will be signing copies of Going Rogue at the Hastings bookstore at 1425 George Washington Way on Sunday.
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.
The Herald wants to see your photos of Palin for a reader online gallery.
Submit them to www.tricityherald.com/sendphoto, then watch for them to be posted on the website.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org