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Nicole Young, a two-time women’s triathlon champ in Eppie’s Great Race, fell and nicked herself while jogging on the El Dorado Trail in October of 2010. The deceivingly innocent cut, requiring only three stitches, rapidly turned into a fight for her life.
Young was training early for Eppie’s Great Race, an event she describes as a vibrant piece of Sacramento history.
Eppie’s Great Race, a triathlon now in its 39th year, is the largest paddle event in the country.
At 8 a.m. on Saturday, more than 2,000 participants will gear up for a 5.82-mile run, 12.5-mile bike ride and 6.35-mile paddle across the American River Parkway in Rancho Cordova and Sacramento.
Individuals can form a three-person relay team or go solo as Ironmen or Ironwomen and compete in the triathlon from start to finish.
Eppie’s Great Race has a “Great Team,” which consists of an Ironman, Ironwoman and three-person relay team. Competitors who beat the score of “Eppie’s Great Team” will receive a meal coupon for a free breakfast at IHOP on 30th and N streets.
The Great Team members time themselves 10 days prior to the event. Young is the paddler for Eppie’s Great Team this year and will also compete on Saturday.
“It is one of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever done,” Young said. “I love the camaraderie that everyone has. It’s low-key, but it’s also competitive. And the course, you can’t beat the course.”
Young, 41, will participate in the Ironwomen’s competition for the first time since her near-death experience.
In October of 2010, she said she first went to the local care unit to get stitches and antibiotics to treat her knee wound.
Less than a week later, Young could not walk, and her leg continued to swell despite the hospital’s attempts to control the infection. Eventually, doctors performed surgery to relieve the swelling and realized that she had necrotic fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacterial infection.
At one point her lungs, heart and kidneys were failing, she said.
“They had to remove part of my quad muscle and part of my hamstring, and at that point, it kept creeping up my leg,” she said. “They thought the best thing for me to survive was to cut my leg off.”
She was scheduled for an amputation, but after her fifth surgery, they didn’t see any more dead flesh.
“They said, well either it’s in my abdomen and I’m going to die in a couple of days or they got it, and they were able to save my leg,” she said.
After five days in the intensive care unit, five weeks in the hospital and months of rehabilitation, Young said she is ready to compete in the 39th Annual Eppie’s Great Race.
“I made a miraculous recovery, and I’m here,” she said, laughing. “It took me a few months to walk without assistance, and now I am going to be in Eppie’s again for the first time as an Iron person.”
Eppie’s Great Race and restaurant founder Eppie Johnson, 81, said he did not expect the level of success the event has had. Originally, Johnson said, he wanted to create an athletic event that promoted his restaurant business.
It started with a challenge using Johnson’s restaurant—beat Eppie’s Great Team. Johnson paddled and picked two other people to participate in the run and bike portion of the relay. Whoever beat Eppie’s Great Team won a free breakfast at his restaurant.
Around the competition’s 20th year, he sold the restaurant, but the race was so large, he decided to keep it going and continued Eppie’s Great Team challenge, he said.
There was much enthusiasm in the community by the time it was in its 20th year, he said. “We must have had about 1,000 people in the race, so we kept it going.”
Johnson said over the years there have been longtime participants who have made an impression on him, such as Patrick Scott, an Ironman competitor, who raced using his wheelchair before the disability adaptive division.
He said that another person who stood out was Mark Wellman, who crawled to the finish line.
“He couldn’t use his legs, and he did the entire race himself,” he said. “He got out of the kayak with his hands.”
Proceeds from the great race benefit Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services (TRS), which provides therapeutic recreational activities for people with disabilities and special needs. Eppie’s Great Race has donated $970,000 thus far.
Young said she recommends newcomers train specifically for the race by incorporating all three stages of the race into their fitness routines, but ultimately, she said, it is about having fun.
“I think that everybody should have it on their bucket list,” she said.
It is not too late to sign up. Late registration continues until race day. People can turn in a paper registration form at William Pond Park from 6:30-7:30 a.m. on race day. Find out more about Eppie’s Great Race at www.eppiesgreatrace.org.