Sunday's Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race will be a bittersweet one for longtime participants.
Race director Jeff Long won't be wielding the bullhorn to start the race in St. Charles, or running down to McCullough Park in Aurora to check times.
Long, 54, died Tuesday, after fighting colon cancer for eight years.
"Today (Wednesday) would have been his day," Fox Valley Park District Executive Director Jim Pilmer, said. "He would have run the racecourse" in a kayak to check on Fox River conditions, Pilmer said.
Long was the public affairs and communications manager for the park district, a job he had since May 2005.
Long kept his battle with colon cancer quiet until about three weeks ago, Pilmer said, and worked until May 22.
He wrote columns for the park district that appeared in local newspapers, including the Daily Herald.
Long was an avid kayaker, according to his brother, Steve. They had grown up in Naperville and Batavia kayaking, fishing and canoeing, particularly on fly-in fishing trips to Canada with their father.
"He just really liked being off away from the excitement," Steve Long said of their trips. Long also hiked, and cycled, including the time he spent 10 days riding to a family reunion in Canada.
"He just really loved getting out in his kayak," Steve Long said.
The Batavia High School graduate attended Eastern Illinois University, where he worked at a radio station and on the school newspaper. He became a sports writer for the Aurora Beacon-News newspaper.
"Even though he covered sports, his real avocation is the outdoors," Pilmer said.
Becoming race director just kind of happened. The annual race, which started in 1961, had declined in popularity from its heyday, when the district limited the race to 1,000 boats.
He made changes, such as shortening the race from its original 17 miles starting in South Elgin, to a 10-mile race starting in St. Charles. He also added a 6-mile version that starts in Batavia. The shorter route has appealed to less-experienced canoeists. He developed detailed guides on the river's condition, including the locations of low spots, each year for the entrants.
He also suggested opening the race to kayakers.
"He had blown new life into it," Pilmer said.
Survivors include wife, Jenean; daughter, Autumn; son, Trevor; two brothers; and his mother.
Funeral arrangements are pending.