Two milestones were achieved Saturday after Athena Johnson crossed the finish line in Eppies Kids Duathlon.
It was the first time the 11-year-old Johnson, who has cerebral palsy, competed in any race. That she competed at all on Saturday is a major accomplishment. She learned how to run only three months ago.
The second accomplishment is organizational, with the successful reconception of the 41-year-old Eppies Great Race triathlon.
Saturdays run and bike event broke tradition by being offered on a different day than the Eppies Great Race triathlon, which is scheduled for July 19. Children ages 4 to 13 competed in the duathlon.
The main triathlon event is now in its 41st year and dubbed the worlds oldest triathlon. It was the brainchild of the late longtime kayaker and restaurateur Eppie Johnson. The race is a decidedly Sacramento runners tradition. Last year, the triathlon saw 1,769 athletes compete as runners and on bikes and kayaks along the American River Parkway.
The accompanying duathlon for kids has become a tradition of sorts, too. In its eighth year, the event drew 230 competitors last year as a side event to the triathlon. On Saturday, 156 children competed. It was held at Sacramentos Discovery Park and the American River Parkway.
In the 6-years-old and under category, Dillon Johnson took first place, with a time of 9:15 over a half mile run and a 1 mile bike race. Lucas Dawson posted a winning time of 21:43 time in the 7-to-10 year old category over a 1 mile run and 4 mile cycle race. Jonah Kellogg took first place in the 11-to-13 year old category with a time of 32:44. That age group ran 2 miles and biked 5.5 miles.
Separating the duathlon from the triathlon allows parents to devote all their time to watching their children compete, said George Johnson, president of the Eppies Great Race Foundation. He also is the son of Eppie Johnson and Athenas father.
We wanted to carry on the legacy of what my father started, but we also saw it as our responsibility to make improvements, said Johnson.
The idea of separating the two races came after hearing many complaints from runners about the logistical challenges that arose when athletes would prepare for and compete in the triathlon while also trying to devote attention to their kids duathlon races.
Offering the duathlon separately is designed to help both events evolve, he said.
We wanted to continue to grow the event because we think one day the duathlon will be as big of a deal as Eppies Great Race is, said Johnson
The opportunity to see a child take off at the starting line, track their progress over the race course, and experience the satisfaction of cheering them on at the finish line proved appealing to many at the race.
At the starting line for the first event a half-mile run and 1-mile bike for kids ages 4 to 6 years old more parents surrounded the starting line, with cameras in hand, than there were young athletes competing.
I think its a great idea separating the two events, said Winnie Hung, whose son Kingsley, 4, was ready at the starting line. If I were running in Eppies and he was running, too, Id be nervous about my race and wouldnt be able to enjoy his race.
Some came from afar to compete, like Josephine Henderson, 13, from Modesto.
Her father, Matt Henderson is a half marathoner and will compete in the July triathlon. On Saturday, he was more than happy to be just a spectator. I think its great that Ill be able to focus today completely on my daughter, said Matt Henderson.
And the new race day was a hit with competitors.
This is my first year doing this, and its really cool that my family was able to watch me cross the finish line, said Athena Johnson.
In her age group, Athenacompleted the 2-mile run and 5.5-mile cycle course in 1 hour and 2 minutes.
Although she came in last place for her age group, finishing the race was a considerable accomplishment given how cerebral palsy had affected Athenas legs.
Her father said that, for Athena, using her legs was akin to constantly standing on her toes. She underwent recent major surgery to fix that last year which entailed elongating muscles in her legs, cutting the tibia bone above the ankle to rotating her foot and insertion of a metal plate in her foot.
She recently spent three months in a wheelchair and then physical therapy ... so this is a very exciting day for us, said George Johnson.
Call The Bees Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.