Before the 40th Fourth of July 10K got underway Saturday, race organizers had some runners to recognize.

While the race itself has seen a stream of new names take to the starting line over the years as tourists flow through the valley around this time, a handful of local athletes have hit the pavement for the race just about every year of its four decades.

Those diehards include Joe DiPrisco, Kelly Mulligan, Robert Krause and Jon Parker. Skinny Skis owner Phil Leeds organized the first race 40 years ago, and though he admitted it’s hard to be sure those four have run each of those 40 races, they’ve been around for almost all of them.

“We’ve been fortunate to have this strong support for this event the last 40 years,” he said. “We called out in the races to acknowledge these people who have raced in it almost annually, dating back to the late ‘70s.”

Skinny Skis began as a Nordic ski equipment operation in 1974, and just three years later it picked up hiking, backpacking, running and climbing to keep the operation viable year-round. In 1979, Leeds said, the company dug into the road racing scene, giving birth to the annual July 4 10K.

The course itself hasn’t changed, beginning in front of the Wilson Community Center and traveling out and back on Fish Creek Road. The only things that change are the runners toeing the starting line. Leeds said that in the 1980s one of the highlights was the collegiate cross-country athletes rolling through from across the country.

“It’s been a lot of fun to see the different individuals, different teams coming through the area on the Fourth of July,” Leeds said. “I remember back in the early 1980s we had quite a few collegiate teams come through, and some of their times were very impressive.”

Even with national and international distance running times dropping like lead over the years, Leeds said the winning times of his longstanding race usually float somewhere around the low 30-minute mark. This year the winning time went to 29-year-old Matt Chorney, who went 33:37.97 for the win, carrying a 5:25 pace to the finish line.

Chorney, a staple in the local racing scene, coaches Jackson High School cross-country and track and field. While he’s got skin in the game for just about every race in and around Jackson, the Fourth of July 10K might be the most special. A family friend of Leeds, he originally moved to Jackson to work at Skinny Skis eight years ago.

“Our families have known each other since he was a little kid,” Leeds said. “It’s terrific to see. We have an ambassadorial role with Matt and a number of other men and women in the area.”

Aside from the staples of the race, Leeds points to the partnership with Friends of Pathways and Jackson Whole Grocer for keeping the race thriving. He said there has been a slight dip in participation as more races have filled up weekends in the valley over the years, but the partnership has helped keep the tradition of the 10K afloat.

“They bring the same mantra of community involvement and engagement,” he said of the sponsors. “Having them involved with us, it’s been a win-win situation. They’ve done a fantastic job reaching out into the community, it’s just been fantastic.”

As for the future of the race, Leeds hopes to continue the tradition.

“Back when we started, the events we sponsored or organized were one of just a few throughout the summer,” he said. “Now there’s not a weekend that goes by from May to September where there’s not a running event of some sort.”

As for Chorney, his racing schedule is only just starting. He said he’ll enter a few races this month and next month to prepare for the Chicago Marathon in October with fellow local distance runner Sam Diaz. Both of them have the goal of notching the Olympic Trials qualifying standard.

Contact Chance Q. Cook at 732-7065, sports@jhnewsandguide.com.

Sports Editor Chance Cook has lived in rural Pennsylvania, upstate New York and Butte, Montana. He is no stranger to spending time in the woods chasing animals. If you see him out, challenge him to a game of pool. Send tips and questions.

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