The race is over for Valley of the Sun triathlon event

YAKIMA -- One of the Pacific Northwest's first and most storied triathlons was already on life support.

Now the plug has been pulled.

"The Valley of the Sun is officially dead," former race director Candie Turner said. "We killed it."

All those boxes of leftover race T-shirts have been given away to a battered women's shelter.

The bike racks have been sold to the Yakima Greenway Foundation for use in the Gap2Gap.

What money remained in the race's bank account has been donated to the Amateur Radio Emergency Services/Search and Rescue.

"If you know of anybody who needs race numbers, let me know. I have bundles of them," Turner said. "If there are little races that need some numbers and safety pins, send them my way. They're theirs."

Years of dwindling participation and a shrinking volunteer base had prompted race organizers to try a one-year hiatus in 2008. The break becoming permanent might not be a surprise -- "Wasn't the handwriting on the wall?" Turner mused -- but it doesn't make it any easier to accept for many in the region's triathlon community.

"I'm sad," said Mitch Hungate, a Renton dentist who did the race about 20 times and, in fact, nearly 15 years ago actually pushed his wedding date back a week so he wouldn't have to miss the Valley of the Sun.

"It's a great course," Hungate said, "and the people who run it were just the nicest people."

"When you think about it, Whisky Dick (in Kittitas County) and Valley of the Sun were the two big races for us here in Washington state. And now they've just kind of petered out," said Kelly Molaski of Bellingham, the only four-time winner (1994, 1997, 1998, 2005) in the race's history.

"Candie has been doing that race for a long, long time, bless her heart, and she always had the smile on her face," she said.

But over the last few years, Turner's smiling exterior was largely replaced by a growing frustration over unreliable volunteers who, she said ruefully, turned her into "an ogre" at times.

"You can put that on the record. Absolutely," Turner said. "There were a lot of times when ogre was way too kind a description. Way too mild."

But every time people would volunteer for some preparatory effort or race-day function and then not show up, it put the onus on the handful of regulars Turner knew she could count on.

"My god, the hours that woman put in," said longtime volunteer Linda McCutchen, who along with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Melana, were among that hard-core group for more than 15 years.

"There were about five or six of them that took over most of it, and not because they wanted to. We would assign things to be done, and of course those people would back out or not show up, and those of us that were there would just try to pick it up and get things done."

Too many years of that took their toll, said longtime race volunteer Mark Tharp, who along with Jo Whitney coordinated the radio and search-and-rescue support group Turner called "the net that came around the race and held it together for all those years."

"Our core group was getting to the point where we were just getting a little burned out," Tharp said. "It was hard to recruit new people to help put the thing on. We always had enough people to pull it off, but it was a lot of work by just a few of us."

People involved, from the racers to the people who coordinated the event, say they will miss the Valley of the Sun.

"I really miss the participants," Turner said. "I really did love this race. I loved the people I worked with."