As everybody knows from Aesop's Fable, a tortoise is no match for a hare, but when Holtville Chamber of Commerce held a turtles/tortoise-only race the playing field was leveled for a photo finish among game competitors.
A buzz swept through the gathering at Holt Park in Holtville on April 20 as the second annual Turtle/Tortoise Race doubled entrants over the inaugural event a year ago. Despite typical lethargy, their attempts to stay on track and out of one another's way made for comic delight.
"Kids love turtles because they seem prehistoric. By the way they move and eat, they look like dinosaurs," said Julie Velasco, a chamber director. "We have all sizes here today so we'll have to break it up and hold different heats."
Velasco had quite a bit of skin in the game with three of her own tortoises racing. Despite being way ahead of the pack, Velasco's African tortoise, "Humphrey," nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when a foot from the finish line he reversed course and scooted back halfway to the start.
Humphrey did manage to get his bearings, reversed course again and crossed the finish line many lengths ahead of the competition in his "run-for-the-roses" and earned a first place purse of $25.
Second place of $15 went to Humphrey's stable mate, Trustee, third and $10 was won by Speedy and fourth was his home companion, Pokey, owned by Judy Tagg. Both Speedy and Pokey were sporting fashionable Easter bonnets that might have been a hit on a couture runway.
"Oh my gosh, it was so much fun, I thought about doing the decorations last night," said Tagg. "I got my headband out and glued the hat and the energizer bunny to that so it wouldn't harm Speedy and Pokey when they wore it."
Tagg also explained these desert tortoises hibernate from mid-October through March so now they are just getting accustomed to the warmer weather and enjoying sunning themselves in her backyard.
"The males when they come out of hibernation are hungry and are aroused by the females now so they fight each other for their attention," she explained. "Speedy loves to eat, mostly strawberries, bananas, cantaloupe and Romaine lettuce."
The second heat largely consisted of younger desert tortoises and the smaller red ear slider turtles. Nebia Flores got hers, "Sparkle." More than a decade ago.
"My mom gave me Sparkle when she was a baby; she fit inside the palm of my hand. She likes to eat lettuce and flies. She's very active in the day and I let her roam outside. But if other animals get too curious she hides inside her shell."
Winning the second heat was "Ivan," owned by Laine McFadden, who only discovered on race day he was actually a she and forever after will be known as "Ivanka."
"I thought this was awesome," said McFadden. "The race was very organized, family oriented and everybody was enthusiastic. I'll absolutely be here next year."
Runner-up in the second heat was "Leonardo," owned by Jessica Mange.
"My son, Mateo, named him for a Ninja Turtle," she said. "We've had him for a year. We dropped a bit of lettuce to help him across the finish line."
Children especially loved the races.
"They're really cute," said Maya Imperial, a third grader at the Finley Elementary School in Holtville. "I've always had a soft place in my heart for animals."
Maya also participated in the Easter Egg hunt, which she noted, "was pretty fun," and collected a treasure of Schrafft's jelly beans, caramel centers, marshmallow eggs, fruity snacks and Hot Tamales candies. Her brother and sister also, also Finley students, joined in.
"You mostly have to be fast," said Julian Imperial. "Plus, when people were in the way, I just started jumping."
His older sister, Analisa, explained, "I got the ones that were already bundled up--mostly jelly beans.
Added her mother, "I think this is wonderful, the kids have been coming for years now."
The egg hunt was divided up into separate fields for age groups of toddlers, pre-school children, first to third and fourth to sixth graders. In addition there was a coloring station, bunny hop (sack race) and an egg relay race. Children also had the chance to visit with the Easter Bunny.
Carlota Guevara and husband, Omar, brought their daughter, Monique Perroni, age one year and eight months.
"Yea, it was cute, and a lot of fun," said Carlota. "My daughter got to meet other kids and enjoyed playing with the turtles."