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Ray Flournoy jogs past a Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K sign in his neighborhood. In 1998, when he was an employee, he suggested that Ukrop’s sponsor a race.

Ray Flournoy had the marathon in mind when he made a suggestion to Ukrop’s Super Markets President Bobby Ukrop in 1998.

It turned into helping the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K get up and running.

“Whenever I think about it in the early years, I never imagined it could be something the way it is,” said Flournoy, who has taken part in every 10k and plans to be on hand with his wife when about 25,000 participants line up Saturday for the 20th anniversary.

Flournoy was an assistant store manager at Ukrop’s. He had gotten into running marathons after finding himself out of shape during the company basketball league.

When the Richmond Times-Dispatch announced that it was ending its sponsorship of the marathon after the 1997 race, Flournoy sent an idea to his boss.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to email Bobby Ukrop and tell him we need to take over this race. We have the healthy lifestyle as a big part of our image. Running is becoming a phenomenon, and Richmond needs us for this,’” Flournoy said.

“About two weeks later, I got a really nice heartfelt email from Bobby. He said, ‘I understand your passion for running. We’re all really proud of you here. But I just feel like we can’t do something at this level at this time. But maybe we can do something on a little smaller scale.’ ”

Meanwhile, Sports Backers was transitioning from a sports commission that bid on and brought events to Richmond to one that created and ran its own events. The organization announced in 1998 it was taking over the marathon with Crestar Bank as the sponsor.

With that experience, Sports Backers executive director Jon Lugbill started working on creating a 10K. In the spring of 1999, he put out a sponsorship proposal.

Lugbill said he had a hard time finding takers. In December of ’99, Ukrop, a co-founder and board member of the Sports Backers, thought it would be a good fit for the region and Ukrop’s message.

The 10K was born in 2000.

“We were all about things that promoted health and well-being,” Ukrop said. “[Ray’s note] was reinforcement of why we should do it.

“There are things like that in life where some people are ahead of their time. Ray always has a gleam in his eyes. He’s always thinking positive about stuff. Those are the kind of people that I think cause things to happen.”

Flournoy, 60, spent 22 years with Ukrop’s. He’s now a realtor who lives in Northside and spends many mornings running around his neighborhood.

He’s been involved with some portion of the marathon for 26 years and is a coach for the Sports Backers marathon training team.

The genesis and popularity of the 10K remain dear to Flournoy. It’s become the fourth largest race of its kind in the country.

“I just think it’s become such a big part of Richmond,” he said. “It’s been so great to see it grow the way it has and be a part of it from the beginning.

“I love after I finish running kind of walking the course and rooting people on. You see people who have never really run before and they’re accomplishing a goal they never thought they could do. It’s really heartwarming.”

tpearrell@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6965

@timpearrelltd

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