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Thousands of Santas race in downtown Las Vegas fundraiser — PHOTOS

Updated December 3, 2022 - 5:20 pm

Ambur Davis, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, ambled carefully forward with the walker she used to complete the 5K portion of the Las Vegas Great Santa Run, a charity race through downtown streets Saturday morning to benefit the disabled.

By 11:20 a.m., Davis, 37, made it by all by herself to the finish line of the 3.1-mile route, despite being legally blind and wearing a boot over her left ankle, which she broke last week.

“It hurts very much,” she said of her injury while waiting for her mother, also dressed as Santa, to finish the race and reunite her with her guide dog. “My doctor told me to put pressure on it. So technically, I’m following doctor’s orders.”

She took her place within a sea of red Santa costumes donned by estimated 5,000 participants whose $25 to $45 registration fees went to the event’s host, Opportunity Village, an organization providing supervision, job training and other support services for physically and mentally challenged people in Southern Nevada.

People started arriving well before the 8 a.m. official check in time on Fremont Street at Fourth Street in front of Walgreen’s to receive a red bag containing their size-appropriate costume to snuggle in over their clothes —- a red Santa jacket, pants, cap, black belt, white faux beard — and “race bib” with their registration number.

Many racers brought costumed pets, including goats, but mainly dogs, often barking loudly at other canines. Others pushed small children in Christmas-decorated strollers.

Cheryl Lenox, 51, of Las Vegas, stood over Otis, her forlorn-looking St. Bernard, lying on the ground, dressed as an elf.

“He’s not digging the outfit,” said Lenox, a retired air traffic controller at Harry Reid International Airport who intended to do the one-mile route. “But this is good for him. He needs to be socialized.”

“I think this is a wonderful charity,” she added. “They do so many things for the community. I’m glad so many people came out.”

Holding a group of seven costumed goats, that were moving here and there while on leashes, were Marion Brady, 58, and Denise Scarff, 53, both of Las Vegas who have been on the Santa run before. Brady keeps the animals on her one-acre ranch-style property.

“Once the walking starts, it should be fine, because people spread out,” said Brady, who brought a bag of peanuts and horse treats for her pets.

Race entrants were offered a choice of running or walking either a one-mile route or the 5K. Both started from Las Vegas Boulevard North and ended up at the city-owned Llama parking lot on 10th Street between Fremont and Ogden Avenue.

The official start, set at 10 a.m., was interrupted for a few minutes when the huge inflated Santa-themed starting gate at Carson Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard suddenly deflated, collapsed and had to be pulled aside.

Metropolitan Police Department officers blocked off traffic on parts of 14 different downtown streets to accommodate the race.

Some in the crowd made a serious effort to run the entire route, but most walked. The last of the racers finished at the Llama lot at about 11:30 a.m., where everyone was offered free bottles of water, cans of energy drinks, nuts, chips and other snacks. On a stage, a D.J. played music and winners of best costume, best pet costume and best stroller costume were announced.

This year’s Santa race was the 18th for Opportunity Village, after a pause amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The charity has a friendly competition for who attracts the most racers with a rival Santa run in London, England.

While waiting for the race to start, the Santa-costumed masses, along with bemused tourists and locals, gathered outside the Third Street stage under the Fremont Street Experience canopy to watch various dignitaries, local TV media types, celebrities and Las Vegas Strip performers.

Ventriloquist Terry Fator, who also served as Grand Marshal of the 5K, performed. Becky Hammon, coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces and Grand Marshal of the one-mile race, took to the stage, joined by Aces player Jackie Young.

The bare-chested Chippendale’s men’s dance troupe, shivering a bit in the morning cool, lined up next to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who quipped that she brings the buffed male hoofers home with her and “it’s such a great way to go to sleep.”

Bob Brown, president and chief executive officer of Opportunity Village, which serves about 2,000 disabled people a day, said that the non-profit would likely raise about $125,000 from the Santa run.

The organization provides the disabled on-the-job training at offices, janitorial services and bakery businesses so that their clients can find out what kinds of things they can do.

“They want to be happy and they want to feel like they are contributing to society,” Brown said. “It’s very important that we fulfill those dreams.”

“These people are like you and me,” he said. “Our philosophy is that God doesn’t make any mistakes.”

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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