A phone call from Bobby Brooks in 2020 struck a chord with Ian Connor, owner of The Running Store in Gainesville.

“We get a lot of calls from people wanting to have 5Ks organized for them, and they don’t know what they are looking to get into. Hero’s Bridge was very well put together and well informed of what they were asking of us,” said Ian who had consulted with a colleague about engaging with the nonprofit that serves veterans ages 65 and older.

The Running Store manages the Freedom Firecracker 5K and the Turkey Trot 5K under the brand Fun Run Racing; Hero’s Bridge has been the beneficiary of both 5Ks for the past few years.

Ian scheduled a meeting with Bobby and Molly Brooks, founder and CEO of Hero’s Bridge, and was impressed with the Hero’s Bridge mission. “We are local guys and feel blessed when we meet great people. It’s nice to be a part of good people, doing good things,” said Ian. “We want Hero’s Bridge to be a part of everything we do,” he added.

Ian, a former elite runner, would like to see a Hero’s Bridge Half Marathon. “There are a lot of 5Ks in the area, a half marathon would be well-received by the running community,” said Ian.

Ian knows a lot about running. As a high school athlete, he won three Ohio State championships and earned an athletic scholarship to Ohio State University. Following college, he spent several years as a professional runner and enjoyed success as a member of the U.S. Team at the World Cross Country Championships, a semifinalist in the 1500m at the 2004 Olympic Trials, in addition to racing competitively for Nike and the North-Carolina based ZAP Fitness Team.

Persistent pelvis issues sidelined him and he eventually hung up his laces. Ten years would pass before Ian received a diagnosis of a hip impingement with multiple labral tears after which he received the necessary surgeries to improve his physical condition to the point where he could lace up again.

Following his professional running days, Ian knew he needed to find a “real job” and while he studied exercise science and psychology with the hopes of helping others see the mental health benefits of physical fitness, it was a niche field that he realized would be hard to break into.

Wanting to stay in the running world, he accepted a job as a sales rep for Fila, which segued into an offer to be the general manager of a new running store opening in Gainesville. He accepted the position and in January 2008, he moved his family from North Carolina to Fauquier County.

In 2012, Ian bought the business and became the sole proprietor of The Running Store where he helps athletes of all ages maintain their physical health and find the proper footwear to keep their stride.

Coordinated runs came soon after.

At one time, Fun Run Racing was organizing a Resolution Run, a half marathon, the Freedom Firecracker 5K, and the fall Turkey Trot.

“We wanted to be entrenched in the running community and a large part of that is organizing runs for runners,” he said. “Supporting organizations like Hero’s Bridge helps us keep our moral compass on track and supports the community of veterans who sacrificed so much.”

Register for the 2024 Freedom Firecracker

WHEN: Thursday, July 4

TIME: 5K at 8:30 and Sparkler 1 Mile at 9:30

WHERE: Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, 9100 Freedom Center Blvd, Manassas

Register for the Freedom Firecracker