Eppie’s Great Race put the region on the map in the running world, but a decline in participation has organizers calling it quits.
Back in 1978, Charlie Willard originally got into kayaking in Eppie’s Great Race when a friend of his pointed out the boat in his garage.
"It was something I built in the Boy Scouts when I was very young and the boat was horrible, very, very slow,” Willard said.
Since then he's upgraded and he’s never missed a race. He has now competed in 40 of the 44 Eppie’s Great Races, only missing the first four.
“It gives us, as we get older particularly, an incentive to get out and still stay in shape and be ready for the race every year,” Willard said.
But his 41st will be his last.
“I and long-time competitors all hate to see it leave,” Willard said.
“We didn’t see this event just sort of fade away,” said George Johnson.
Johnson is the president of the race and the son of the race’s founder and namesake, Eppie Johnson. His father was also the founder of the now closed Eppie’s diners.
“The idea wasn’t his. He had a good friend, who was his kayak instructor, who had said, 'Eppie, you ought to do this triathlon,'” George Johnson said.
In recent years, even before his father’s death in 2013, George Johnson says participation numbers were dropping.
“And he said, 'Hey, you know what? To really make this worth it we need 16 or 17 hundred people,” George Johnson recalls his father saying.
In the past few years they had only gotten around a thousand. By announcing the end now, organizers hope more people participate in July.
Willard says he’ll be there, but he’s sad to think he may never see his fellow racers all together again in one place.
“We often called it the greater Eppie’s family, because we see friends that we hadn’t seen all year,” Willard said.
Eppie’s Great Race benefits Sacramento County Regional Parks’ Therapeutic Recreation Services program, earning it $1.2 million over the years. Goerge Johnson told FOX40 his family’s foundation will continue to support that program through their other events, such as a kid’s duoathlon they hold every fall.