VAMomentum has become somewhat of a household name around Harrisonburg. And with good reason – Kevin and Alan (founders of VAMomentum) have successfully created events that get people from all ages, backgrounds, and ability levels out and moving in the friendly city and now throughout Virginia. With family-friendly events like the Rocktown Turkey Trot (complete with pumpkin pie stations and the Gobble Gobble Kids Dash) and the Valley 4th Run (with bands along the route) to beer-inspired runs like the Growler Team Relay and Run Sweat and Beers, there really is something for everyone. And now they’re adding a new event that involves not only running, but paddle-boarding and biking (that’s right! Check out some details here!).
I had the privilege to sit down with Kevin Gibson and chat about the beginnings, current work, and exciting future of VAMomentum. Check out part of our conversation below!
When did VAMomentum start?
Kevin Gibson: The back-story on it is that it’s a hobby that went out of control. In 2012, Alan and I were just two buddies who wanted to plan a charity running event in Harrisonburg. VAMomentum as an entity came the next year in 2013 when we decided that we needed to have a formal structure if we were going to add on more events. July of 2015 is when I came on full-time, and then May of 2016 is when Alan came on full-time. In 2012 we didn’t think that I would be talking to you about when VAMomentum started.
Why did you start VAMomentum?
KG: Alan and I met each other when we were working full-time at JMU and we sort of bonded over similar childhoods where we weren’t attracted to stuff where a bunch of people were being active. We both had a history of not being healthy eaters and not active. At some point we each had been triggered to get our lives a little bit back together somewhere in our mid-20’s. When we met each other we decided to motivate each other to keep our lives on the right track. So we decided to create an event that welcomed people from all backgrounds and skill levels that was also a benefit to the community. At the same time, we were realizing we might be in Harrisonburg for a while and that Harrisonburg needs stuff like this and figured why don’t we be the ones to create it?
We had the Valley 4th run that first year. After that two things happened – first, we really liked doing it and second, the community response was really positive. People were telling us that Harrisonburg needs more stuff like this. So that ultimately led to us adding on more events.
What is your favorite part of this job?
KG: I think my favorite part of the job is the hustle and the entrepreneurial freedom of it. I love that we get a chance to build this in partnership with people in the community and now people around Virginia. We get to wake up every day and feel like we’re making a difference. And every night when I go to bed I feel like I’ve spent my energy for the day. I love that constant hustle of it. The entrepreneurial freedom is something that allows us to be efficient and allows us to test out new ideas and if they work, that’s great and if they don’t we have a little less risk from a structural standpoint.
The other side of it is much more related to being able to make a difference. We are very fortunate to have stories of people who have said, ‘hey I’ve come out to your stuff and it’s really motivated me to get myself in gear.’ Those things are super important to us too.
What are you most excited about for the future of VAMomentum?
KG: Right now we are in the process of hiring a third full-time team member. That’s going to be a really cool next step for us. It’s going to not only add a ton of value, it’s going to free Alan and me up to do more business development and focus on growth. On the other side, we need another perspective. It’s been the two of us since we started – we’re really good about challenging each other, but having another person in the room will hopefully challenge us in more good ways and bring more ideas.
We are also growing the Growler Team Relay Series which is our brewery-to-brewery long distance relay. We had 4 of those in 2016. We have 8 of those scheduled for 2017. We’re launching information about and registration for a paddleboard-bike-run triathlon. It’ll start in Wildwood Park in Bridgewater on the North River then they’ll hop on bikes and ride their bikes 20 miles to the Valley Pike Farm Market in Weyers Cave and then the run will happen on the farm property.
And then we have a bunch of ideas in the hopper that we’re excited to pursue.
Is there anything you would like to tell Harrisonburg?
KG: If I were to tell Harrisonburg anything, I think it would be that we exist because of the community here. What happened between 2012 and 2013 – when this was nothing to when it became a thing – and then up to 2015 when I ultimately decided to go full-time only happened because of the community here and the response of the community here that inspired us to believe that this was something that we could do and could sustain for the long haul. Our mission is “energizing the community for good.” That means two things to us: the word “good” there means good for the long haul – so energizing people to be active and invest in a healthy lifestyle for the long haul. Also, “for good” means for good causes. The word “community” is in our mission statement and when we talk about it in our mission statement, we mean Harrisonburg. We’re growing outside of Harrisonburg, but our roots will always be here.
Tell me a little bit about the structure of VAMomentum.
KG: We are a social enterprise. We’re a for-profit company. We want to make sure that we’re very clear that we’re not a non-profit. All of our events support non-profits, but we fall into this social enterprise category, which is ultimately using a corporate business model to maximize impact for the community. We’ve given over $60,000 to charities in the first five years. That’s why we do it. We wanted to give back all along. We’re using a for-profit business model to maximize community impact.
Some of the runs have standing charities. For the Turkey Trot, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank is the charity each year – that’s a good, fitting one for Thanksgiving when we’re chowing down and there are other people who are hungry. Some of them rotate. So we did a lottery for the Valley Fourth Run this year – all charities were welcome and we selected them at random. For the Crusher Run, which is out at Fraser Quarry, we’ve worked in partnership with Fraser Quarry to identify different charities to benefit. The Glow Run on New Year’s Eve is a partnership with Generations Crossing. The Valley Vines Twilight 5K at Cross Keys Vineyard is a partnership with the Chamber. It’s an event-by-event thing. Everything we do has some component of giving back.