Two runners posing at the finish line of a Sports Backers race

Five questions with: Jon Lugbill, executive director, Sports Backers

Lucky for us, Richmond is a vibrant city with no shortage of outdoors to explore. From kayaking the James River to biking the Capital Trail, RVA provides a plethora of opportunities for activity. 

For 27 years, Sports Backers has provided the Richmond community with ways to lead an active and healthy life. The nonprofit focuses on inspiring people from every part of the community to get outside and get moving. Through its nationally-recognized events, programs and training, Sports Backers is committed to helping families, friends and neighbors live dynamically.

When he’s not exploring the great outdoors of RVA, Jon Lugbill is motivating his staff and volunteers and executing plans that promote an active lifestyle for Richmonders. We dove deeper with Lugbill to see Sports Backers through his eyes as executive director.

What is Sports Backers’ core mission?

The Sports Backers mission is to inspire active living in all corners of the Richmond area. Sports Backers accomplishes this mission by hosting motivational community events, free fitness classes in the region, clubs at over 70 schools and advocating for safe and accessible bike and pedestrian infrastructure. 

Can you characterize the extent of the problem locally?

Jon Lugbill, executive director, Sports Backers

The Richmond area has high rates of inactivity, especially in low-income communities. This results in a significant number of people that suffer from obesity and chronic diseases like Type II Diabetes and Heart Disease. Physical activity programs motivate and inspire active living and help to improve the health of these individuals. 

What’s interesting about the Richmond area is that we also have a very active, affluent population that has been growing over the past two decades. Traditionally in Richmond, people paid for recreation and sports activities. To overcome this disparity, Sports Backers and our network of community partners are working on expanding free and accessible fitness and sports opportunities. A prime example is our effort to build and improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the region. Thus, making an active lifestyle available to everyone in the area at no cost. 

What don’t most people realize or understand?

Sports Backers is a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, the VCU Health Richmond Marathon and 15 other sporting events. Because we produce these events very professionally, people wrongly assume that we are a for-profit organization. Be reassured that 100% of the funds raised from these events, donations and grants go toward helping to motivate and inspire area residents to live actively.

What kind of work do volunteers do to help Sports Backers?

Sports Backers depends on 7,000 volunteers a year to accomplish its work through an incredible array of different tasks. We are fortunate to have a volunteer board of directors that helps lead the organization. We train volunteers to lead our fitness programs, kids run programs and coach our teams to advocate for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Volunteers also serve on our race committees and help with event operations and logistics. We have volunteers that help with event logistics like handing out water to runners or helping with registration and directing.

If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it?

Right now, we would use $100,000 to create an architectural and engineering design guide for the look and feel of the Fall Line trail. The future 43-mile long Fall Line trail is being built through seven different jurisdictions, connecting Ashland to Petersburg. This includes heavily urbanized areas, suburban locales and very rural park settings. We want signs, crosswalks, lighting, landscaping and artwork to be planned. This will result in one continuous trail with the same look and feel. Certain jurisdictions will be encouraged to put their own unique touches to the trail, but we want the users to know they are on a special trail for all 43 miles.

To learn more about Sports Backers or to donate, visit its website and follow it on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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