Learn more about the motivation and history behind Eppie's Great Race (EGR) with this in-depth Q&A with George E. Johnson II - President of the Eppie’s Wellness Foundation.
How did EGR begin? Can you speak to its family origins and specifically Eppie Johnson?
George: In June of 1974, my father and race founder, Eppie Johnson was paddling his kayak on the American River with his good friend, instructor and K2 Ski Rep, Mike Ewing. Mike challenged my dad to setup a race to ski down Alpine Meadows, bike out to the Truckee River and then kayak into the City of Truckee. My dad, ever the promoter of his restaurants, looked at Mike and said "That's a great idea, but I don't have any restaurants in Alpine Meadows or Truckee!". A week later, Mike announced that he'd come up with the first course for what my father then dubbed Eppie's Great Race. Since Eppie was building a new restaurant on Olson Drive in Rancho Cordova called "Eppaminondas" (his full first name), he suggested to start there and end at the "Eppie's" coffee shop on Watt Avenue. My dad liked the idea of running and biking through Rancho Cordova and Sacramento but he also wanted to incorporate one of his favorite sports, kayaking. Starting with the very first race, my dad wanted to make sure he gave race proceeds to charity. His father, George, instilled in him that "you give back to the community that's given so much to you." Eppie identified a charity called Aquarian Effort, which helped people with drug addictions, to receive race proceeds and the race contributed to them from 1974-1979 until the race moved to the American River Parkway and the race beneficiary was changed to Therapeutic Recreation Services which provides recreational therapy to people who are physically and mentally challenged.
What are some of the most interesting things you've witnessed during the race's storied 43 years?
George: One of the most interesting things that I witnessed was when my father passed away and the paddling community honored him prior to their pre-race clinic and race. I was amazed at how many of them remarked to me that without Eppie's Great Race, they wouldn't have learned to paddle and stayed committed to doing it for so many years. It truly was heartwarming to learn what an impact my Dad's crazy love for a sport has done for so many people.
To date, how much money has EGR earned on behalf of Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreational Services? Can you speak to what services those funds help assist?
George: Through 2015's race, we have raised over $1,450,000 for Therapeutic Recreation Services. Their programs focus on abilities while encouraging people to attain their highest level of independent leisure functioning by increasing leisure skills, improving social skills, increasing independence and increasing their awareness of and involvement in community recreational activities. TRS has a schedule packed with activities including cooking classes, trips, events, summer camp, softball, Special Olympics training and much more. TRS is funded by Sacramento County and the Eppie's Great Race donation helps pay for things that their budget doesn't provide for. For example, we donated a wheelchair lift for their van and our contributions have allowed them to put on programs and events that they otherwise would not be able to do.