Downtime: Sportable’s Hunter Leemon pedals for nonprofit in 500-mile bike ride

Hunter Leemon 1

Hunter Leemon at a practice for the River City Rumble Wheelchair Rugby Tournament, one of Sportable’s newer events held last weekend at Highland Springs High School. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

When Dan Schmitt finished out the last leg of his coast-to-coast Kon-Tiki Challenge bike ride last year, Hunter Leemon was there riding along with him.

The executive director of Richmond nonprofit Sportable joined Schmitt for the final 52 miles of his 4,500-mile trek, which raised awareness – and over $130,000 – to support Sportable’s work providing sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

Hunter Leemon 2

Leemon with Dan Schmitt, who he joined on the last leg of his coast-to-coast Kon-Tiki Challenge bike ride last year. (Photos courtesy Hunter Leemon)

Inspired by the experience – and by Schmitt, a former HHHunt exec and a volunteer with Sportable’s cycling program – Leemon, an avid cyclist himself, is undertaking his own long-distance bike ride this coming week to raise funds for the nonprofit he’s led for nine years.

Leemon, 45, is riding in this year’s RAGBRAI, a 500-mile ride across Iowa that starts this Sunday and concludes the following weekend. The eight-day ride is formally known as the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a yearly event started by The Des Moines Register newspaper that draws thousands of riders from around the world and is celebrating its 50th year.

“I’d heard a lot about RAGBRAI, and I just said, ‘You know what? I’m doing it,’” Leemon said last week before heading out west.

“Cycling is the best. It’s a good community,” he said. “The great thing about sports is it builds community, it builds peer relationships. The cycling community is awesome. That’s why I’m so excited about RAGBRAI: it’s 10,000 people!”

Leemon is aiming to raise $10,000 in donations that, if reached, will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor and Sportable supporter. Joining him in the $20,000 effort is a group of friends and family and some Sportable colleagues, including a coach and a Sportable athlete.

Hunter Leemon 3

Leemon training on a stationary bike.

Leemon said the challenge brings together what he considers the three most important things in his life: family, friends and Sportable.

“My wife and son are going. I’m with these friends and it’s going to be awesome, because we’ll make more friends, and there’s that sense of community and why I love doing things like this,” he said. “To be able to do something like this and to share that experience with others, if I can use that as a catalyst to raise funds so we can do more for our athletes, I was like, ‘This is perfect.’”

Leemon added: “I just want people to understand: I’m so fortunate to be able to do this whenever I want, and a lot of our athletes aren’t. If I can use my experience to help raise funds for others to have it, then I’m all in.”

Beginning at the eastern border on the Mississippi River, RAGBRAI rides through eight communities across Iowa that serve as hosts for overnight stays. Riders sleep in tents and bring other gear that’s transported on a big-rig, while also carrying their own supplies on the ride.

Leemon will be riding his Cannondale road bike, with thicker tires on it in light of the conditions and topography. He said the ride climbs 16,000 feet over the course of the route, with as much as a 3,500-foot climb in a day and the longest day rides stretching 80 miles.

On top of his regular rides on his bike, Leemon has been preparing for RAGBRAI with a spinning class at the Northside YMCA. He said he’s trained with the indoor cycling group for five years, ever since a knee injury restricted his athletic pursuits to cycling.

“They are a big reason I feel ready for my RAGBRAI adventure,” he said.

Hunter Leemon 4

With his spinning group at the Northside Y.

A native of Lawrenceville in Brunswick County, Leemon’s path to Sportable started with a stint in commercial real estate after completing his undergrad at Randolph-Macon University. Having been a collegiate athlete, he decided CRE wasn’t for him and made a career change after getting a master’s degree in sports leadership at VCU.

“I realized I like the environment of sports. I like being on a team, and the community and the locker room and the bus rides and that sense of family you have with your teammates. I missed that,” he said.

Following jobs with the Richmond Kickers and an adjunct faculty gig with VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership, Leemon joined what was then a three-person outfit at Sportable, which has since grown to 13 full-time staff today.

“It’s such a feel-good to be around it,” he said of the nonprofit he’s led for nearly a decade. “It’s all the reasons that I wanted to go back and be part of sports.”

Hunter Leemon 5

Leemon has led Sportable as its executive director for nearly a decade. (Photo courtesy Sportable)

Part of Leemon’s job is advocating for more access and inclusion in sports, not only by providing sports opportunities for Sportable’s athletes but also by increasing awareness and support throughout the community. He said the Richmond community has a long way to go to make sports and recreation accessible to all.

“We fancy ourselves as a sports town. Someone mentioned that the river now gets over 5 million visits a year. That’s great, but if that’s part of our identity and who we are, then it needs to be that way for everybody,” he said. “That means access to the T-Pot bridge, that means access to Belle Isle, that means accessible bike trails.

“I feel like our work is very important, and it goes beyond sports. It’s a quality-of-life component for people that have disability profiles, that are different than you and me. I just think that’s very invigorating, to know that our work means something beyond the court.”

The RAGBRAI for Sportable fundraiser got underway in late June, with the public invited to log miles throughout July by running, walking, pushing or cycling. Funds raised so far through the multi-tiered, peer-to-peer fundraiser have reached $7,300 of its $10,000 goal.

Registration to participate is free and is available on the fundraiser’s website, where donations can also be made.

This is the latest installment in our Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside of the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has a unique way of passing time off the clock, submit suggestions to [email protected]. For previous installments of Downtime, click here.

Hunter Leemon 1

Hunter Leemon at a practice for the River City Rumble Wheelchair Rugby Tournament, one of Sportable’s newer events held last weekend at Highland Springs High School. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

When Dan Schmitt finished out the last leg of his coast-to-coast Kon-Tiki Challenge bike ride last year, Hunter Leemon was there riding along with him.

The executive director of Richmond nonprofit Sportable joined Schmitt for the final 52 miles of his 4,500-mile trek, which raised awareness – and over $130,000 – to support Sportable’s work providing sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

Hunter Leemon 2

Leemon with Dan Schmitt, who he joined on the last leg of his coast-to-coast Kon-Tiki Challenge bike ride last year. (Photos courtesy Hunter Leemon)

Inspired by the experience – and by Schmitt, a former HHHunt exec and a volunteer with Sportable’s cycling program – Leemon, an avid cyclist himself, is undertaking his own long-distance bike ride this coming week to raise funds for the nonprofit he’s led for nine years.

Leemon, 45, is riding in this year’s RAGBRAI, a 500-mile ride across Iowa that starts this Sunday and concludes the following weekend. The eight-day ride is formally known as the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, a yearly event started by The Des Moines Register newspaper that draws thousands of riders from around the world and is celebrating its 50th year.

“I’d heard a lot about RAGBRAI, and I just said, ‘You know what? I’m doing it,’” Leemon said last week before heading out west.

“Cycling is the best. It’s a good community,” he said. “The great thing about sports is it builds community, it builds peer relationships. The cycling community is awesome. That’s why I’m so excited about RAGBRAI: it’s 10,000 people!”

Leemon is aiming to raise $10,000 in donations that, if reached, will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor and Sportable supporter. Joining him in the $20,000 effort is a group of friends and family and some Sportable colleagues, including a coach and a Sportable athlete.

Hunter Leemon 3

Leemon training on a stationary bike.

Leemon said the challenge brings together what he considers the three most important things in his life: family, friends and Sportable.

“My wife and son are going. I’m with these friends and it’s going to be awesome, because we’ll make more friends, and there’s that sense of community and why I love doing things like this,” he said. “To be able to do something like this and to share that experience with others, if I can use that as a catalyst to raise funds so we can do more for our athletes, I was like, ‘This is perfect.’”

Leemon added: “I just want people to understand: I’m so fortunate to be able to do this whenever I want, and a lot of our athletes aren’t. If I can use my experience to help raise funds for others to have it, then I’m all in.”

Beginning at the eastern border on the Mississippi River, RAGBRAI rides through eight communities across Iowa that serve as hosts for overnight stays. Riders sleep in tents and bring other gear that’s transported on a big-rig, while also carrying their own supplies on the ride.

Leemon will be riding his Cannondale road bike, with thicker tires on it in light of the conditions and topography. He said the ride climbs 16,000 feet over the course of the route, with as much as a 3,500-foot climb in a day and the longest day rides stretching 80 miles.

On top of his regular rides on his bike, Leemon has been preparing for RAGBRAI with a spinning class at the Northside YMCA. He said he’s trained with the indoor cycling group for five years, ever since a knee injury restricted his athletic pursuits to cycling.

“They are a big reason I feel ready for my RAGBRAI adventure,” he said.

Hunter Leemon 4

With his spinning group at the Northside Y.

A native of Lawrenceville in Brunswick County, Leemon’s path to Sportable started with a stint in commercial real estate after completing his undergrad at Randolph-Macon University. Having been a collegiate athlete, he decided CRE wasn’t for him and made a career change after getting a master’s degree in sports leadership at VCU.

“I realized I like the environment of sports. I like being on a team, and the community and the locker room and the bus rides and that sense of family you have with your teammates. I missed that,” he said.

Following jobs with the Richmond Kickers and an adjunct faculty gig with VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership, Leemon joined what was then a three-person outfit at Sportable, which has since grown to 13 full-time staff today.

“It’s such a feel-good to be around it,” he said of the nonprofit he’s led for nearly a decade. “It’s all the reasons that I wanted to go back and be part of sports.”

Hunter Leemon 5

Leemon has led Sportable as its executive director for nearly a decade. (Photo courtesy Sportable)

Part of Leemon’s job is advocating for more access and inclusion in sports, not only by providing sports opportunities for Sportable’s athletes but also by increasing awareness and support throughout the community. He said the Richmond community has a long way to go to make sports and recreation accessible to all.

“We fancy ourselves as a sports town. Someone mentioned that the river now gets over 5 million visits a year. That’s great, but if that’s part of our identity and who we are, then it needs to be that way for everybody,” he said. “That means access to the T-Pot bridge, that means access to Belle Isle, that means accessible bike trails.

“I feel like our work is very important, and it goes beyond sports. It’s a quality-of-life component for people that have disability profiles, that are different than you and me. I just think that’s very invigorating, to know that our work means something beyond the court.”

The RAGBRAI for Sportable fundraiser got underway in late June, with the public invited to log miles throughout July by running, walking, pushing or cycling. Funds raised so far through the multi-tiered, peer-to-peer fundraiser have reached $7,300 of its $10,000 goal.

Registration to participate is free and is available on the fundraiser’s website, where donations can also be made.

This is the latest installment in our Downtime series, which focuses on business people’s pursuits outside of the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town has a unique way of passing time off the clock, submit suggestions to [email protected]. For previous installments of Downtime, click here.

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Margaret Thompson
Margaret Thompson
10 months ago

Hunter is incredible, truly one of the best. RVA is lucky to have him in our corner, advocating for more inclusion and access in sports. Go Hunter, GO!

Andrew Price
Andrew Price
10 months ago

Leemon is one of the best. Good luck on the ride!