Virginians and Team U.S.A. Olympians Unite for a Special Night
Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge (VVBR) celebrated its 35th Annual Meeting on September 8 in the company of many friends, partners, supporters, and Olympic athletes, including VIP guest, Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong.
The celebration occurred as Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before. 2019 was a record-breaking year for tourism in Virginia’s Blue Ridge (VBR), which capped off 10 consecutive years of record growth. While 2020 was forecasted to be even stronger than 2019, a tough travel market created challenges across the globe but now, in 2022, Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge is shouting its successes in elevating its reputation as a premier outdoor recreation and athletic training destination, particularly to the growing world of cycling.
The 35th Annual Meeting was a chance to recognize the amazing work done to promote and attract new visitors to Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Much of the momentum from the athletic community is due to Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24 professional cycling. This team has won more national, world championship, and Olympic recognition and medal placements than any other sports development team in America. Despite pandemic-related challenges, athletes and spectators have continued to travel to the region to enjoy the outdoors and the many sports facilities and venues unique to Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
One of the first major region-wide sports events held was the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Hosting the only IRONMAN event in Virginia brought over 1,300 competitors in 2021 and over 1,900 in 2022. In addition, VBR secured the 2022 and 2023 USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championships. Sporting events are big business and continue to generate economic impact for the region.
In extending the region’s reputation for embracing the cycling community, Roanoke College President Frank Shushok announced during the event that Olympian Shelley Olds has signed on as the new cycling coach for the institution’s first-ever competitive cycling program. Olds is a two-time USA Cycling elite criterium national champion (2010, 2011) who trained with the team under Armstrong (which was called TWENTY12 in advance of the 2012 games) and was instrumental in bringing the team to the Roanoke Valley. Olds is also a Roanoke College graduate who captained the women’s soccer team for two years. She will continue serving as VBR TWENTY24’s team director while taking on this new role.
“This is an incredible day for Virginia’s Blue Ridge. It is not every day that we are able to welcome an Olympic star of the gold-medal level with Kristin Armstrong. She is here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge to help us elevate our region as an outdoor destination and to celebrate the successes of our VBR TWENTY24 team. We are grateful!” said Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “We want to thank our sponsors, government partners, and most importantly, the community here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and those who’ve visited our region for making the success of the past year possible.”
A highlight of the evening came during Kristin Armstrong’s keynote address, an inspiring retelling of her journey to becoming a professional cyclist and three-time Olympic gold champion. Her emphasis on community to achieve a life that transcends beyond expectation gave a great blueprint for our efforts here in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Additionally, Armstrong helped welcome the first local athletes to VBR TWENTY24 for 2023, sisters Ally and Teagan Burrow.