Richmond is a city on the go in part because of the efforts of Jon Lugbill and Sports Backers.
Physical activity - whether on land or water, whether on foot or bicycle, whether competitive or casual- was Sports Backers' signature contribution to life in Richmond during the past year.
Offerings included not only high-profile events such as the Anthem Richmond Marathon, the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k and Dominion Riverrock but smaller events, some of them splashed with whimsy: the Walgreens Dragon Boat Festival, Henricus Mudstock and the CarMax Tacky Light Run.
“I remember asking a question a few years ago at our strategic planning session,” said Lugbill, executive director of Sports Backers. “I asked our board and staff what they were most proud of” about the organization’s performance during the previous year. “Almost everyone said the same thing: seeing people in their neighborhoods becoming more active, seeing them running and jogging and walking.”
At that moment, Lugbill experienced an epiphany of sorts.
“It just seemed logical,” he said. “I thought: If that’s what we’re proudest of, shouldn’t it be front and center” on the Sports Backers’ list of priorities?
Thus began the transformation of Sports Backers from a group that sought primarily to attract events to one that now strives to beckon area residents off their couches and into the game.
“A new direction isn’t always a better direction,” said Lugbill, a former Olympic kayaker. “But in our case, there’s no question about it. For us, this is definitely the right direction.”
Lugbill said Sports Backers isn’t interested in appealing only to athletically inclined 20- and 30-somethings. The organization also is reaching out to children and seniors in underserved communities with its Kids Run RVA and Keep It Moving initiatives.
Said Lugbill: “It’s about bringing access and opportunities to everyone, everywhere in the community.”
IN HIS WORDS
A small moment in life with a big impact
In 1990, I was working for the Washington Council of Governments as an environmental planner. The mayor of Takoma Park, Md., Steve Del Giudice, wanted to bring the Olympics to Washington, and he also happened to be the chairman of the board of the Washington Council of Governments. Because I was the only one on staff that knew much about sports, I was asked to perform a feasibility study on bringing the Olympics to the nation’s capital. While the Olympic feasibility study ended once Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Olympics, I was hooked on the idea of working on sports to help a community. A few years later, I moved to Richmond and became the executive director of the Sports Backers. It is funny that my move to Richmond all goes back to Mayor Del Giudice’s big idea of bringing the Olympics to Washington.
Something that might surprise others
In high school, my classmates voted me “Quietest” and “Most Shy” as my senior superlatives.
“Our Kids” by Robert Putnam changed my views on modern poverty and what the challenges youth with uneducated parents face compared with what it is used to be like in America. The most important point in the book is that our society has to remember that all children are “Our Kids” - and not just the ones in our own neighborhood.
Something you’d like to do
I would like to visit all 50 states. I still need to visit Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota, North Dakota and Alaska.
My dad, Ralph Lugbill. Never scared of hard work and long hours, my dad still kept our family as a top priority. On a typical day, he would be at work by 5 a.m. but would be home for dinner by 6:30 p.m. He introduced my siblings and me to every sport imaginable, and he encouraged us to try new things and explore the world. Whether it was hiking in Shenandoah National Park or driving us around northeast D.C. after the riots, my dad broadened my view by allowing me to experience new people and different places.
Alternate profession or course of study
I think being a college professor would be interesting; I really enjoy the guest speaking opportunities I’ve had in classes at both UR and VCU. I imagine it would be fulfilling to inspire students to enjoy learning not just for a grade but for a lifetime of exploration.
Favorite thing about Richmond region
I love how those in our region collectively and organically contribute to our somewhat quirky way of life. RVA is an original that exudes an eclectic cutting-edge vibe. Spend two minutes on Belle Isle during the summer and you’ll know what I mean: history, natural beauty, city skyline, age, race and economic diversity, pets, mountain bikers, runners, kayakers, swimmers and picnickers. Richmond is an authentic - sometimes gritty but always exciting - place that I am very proud to call home.
I am excited to have a small part in our community’s nationally recognized, growing outdoor and active lifestyle that is creating a happier, healthier, more livable region.
Position: executive director, Sports Backers
Born/hometown: May 27, 1961; Wauseon, Ohio
College: University of Virginia
Family: wife Gillian, daughters Kelly and Stephanie