Don’t be fooled. Behind Levar Stoney’s smile, he says, is a fierce competitor.
Richmond’s mayor wants to be the best he can be at everything he does.
Whether it’s running the city or running the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k — as he did Saturday morning — the 36-year-old Stoney says he’s going to push himself to the limit to be successful.
As he crossed the finish line a little after 9 a.m. Saturday, you could tell. Stoney was spent after running 6.2 miles as hard as he could.
“I left it all on the field,” he said through heavy breaths just moments after finishing, his yellow “Team Massey” shirt drenched with sweat.
His goal was to beat his personal best time of 45 minutes, 53 seconds, which he set last year in the same race. Saturday, he finished with a time of 46:59.
Not his best, but not for the lack of trying.
“People say, ‘… Are you just going to jog it or whatnot?’ No. I’m very competitive,” said Stoney, who is the first Richmond mayor to compete in the 10k. “Behind my smile and people say my nice suits, there’s a very competitive person underneath. I’m not necessarily competing with the people who are in front of me, but I’m competing with myself.”
Stoney has always been an athlete who has dedicated himself to a healthy lifestyle.
He was a two-sport varsity letterwinner at Tabb High School. He was the starting quarterback on the football team for three years, and also ran the 400 and 800 meters on the Tabb track team. His senior year, in 2000, Stoney was part of the 4x800 relay team that finished second in the state.
After high school, even though he said he was being recruited to play football collegiately, Stoney chose to attend James Madison University to pursue his “other love” — politics and government.
But he always stayed active, continuing to run, using his father’s death to remind him how important it is to commit to a healthy way of living.
“I had a father who passed away at age 49 because of heart failure,” Stoney said. “So I thought, ‘I plan on living long beyond that.’ I think this is the best way to make sure my heart is in the right place.
“I was already focused on always staying in shape and being healthy, but it changed the way I am with my diet. It changed the decisions one makes. It (solidified) my continued focused and commitment to staying in shape and getting out there and being active.”
To have a mayor not only talk the talk about a healthy lifestyle, but walk the walk — or in this case, run the run — is something Sports Backers executive director Jon Lugbill said makes the message so much more impactful.
“It was awesome to have the mayor actually run the race,” Lugbill said. “When he’s talking to people about the race, he’s living and breathing that healthy lifestyle he’s talking about. He’s just an incredible role model for our community.
“He really believes in the idea of being active leads to a productive, healthy life. It’s easy for him to promote because it’s something he believes in and does. He’s not doing it for political reasons or for a photo op. He’s the real deal. It’s just so much more effective and powerful when it’s genuine.”
But Saturday’s 10k wasn’t just about beating his personal best while working up a sweat and promoting an active lifestyle. It was also about the city of Richmond and the 25,000-plus people who ran up and down Monument Avenue.
“It’s an iconic event,” Stoney said of the 10k. “It’s the Richmond event, I believe.
“People from all over come to run in this 10k. What I hear from everyone, whether they’re Richmonders or from out of town, that it’s a fun race.
“People look like they’re enjoying themselves. Even the people who are running that probably, at some point along the race feel like they’re dying, I think they’re enjoying the race.”
Stoney, tired and out of breath, enjoyed it, too.