Reggae Run celebrates 20 years of success, moves to Eden Park

This October will mark the 20th anniversary of the Reggae Run, and with its longevity comes continued success and an increase in participants. 

What started nearly 20 years ago as a small-scale project with the hope of getting 500 people to show up has turned into an event that has raised more than $1 million dollars over the years for local charities. It has also outgrown its longtime course at Ault Park.

This October, participants will instead gather at Eden Park for a new course and the same after-party that locals have grown to love, as it draws as many as 7,000 people together to celebrate. 

“It’s really amazing that the time has gone so quickly, but at the same time, it’s really neat to see how the event has grown and how it’s become part of Cincinnati,” says Doug Olberding, Reggae Run's organizer. “But we realized maybe seven or so years ago that not everybody that comes to the race knows why we do it.”

Olberding, who is the late Maria Olberding’s brother, says it dawned on him a few years back that most of the people who run the race—oftentimes people who are in their 20s—were about 5 years old when his sister was slain while running near her home in Mt. Lookout. 

“The older people know—you tell somebody who’s around my age, and they say, ‘Gosh, I remember that, it was a big deal,’” Olberding says. “But the younger people don’t know why we do it. We put it out there, but they don’t know the story, and we feel like it is our duty to make sure we keep the story alive and keep her memory alive through the race.” 

So the Olberding family puts on an event that encompasses everything Maria cherished—running, reggae and nature. Whether it was through her optimistic and positive outlook on life or through her volunteer efforts with organizations like Stepping Stones and Children’s Hospital, Maria made sure to put her best foot forward.

“She wasn’t a teacher or anything like that—it was just her natural altruism,” Olberding says. “She was a pretty giving person. She was a 20-something, typical girl out of college; she worked at the Beach Waterpark and had fun with her friends, but they found time to do things—volunteer work and stuff like that—so that was part of it, and I don’t know that I can say specifically where that came from. It was just the way she was.”

At the Reggae Run, participants can either run or walk a 5K. After the race, everyone joins together for fellowship through food and music, which is provided by The Ark Band, a group that Maria grew up listening to.  

Olberding says themes within reggae music that deal with “finding the good in things” speak volumes to who Maria was as a person. 

Proceeds from the event benefit the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which formed in Cincinnati when the Olberdings sought the organization out as a recipient.

The more than $1 million the event has raised for the organization is just one of the positives that has come as a result of the Reggae Run. 

“Some people come up to us during the race, and they’re beside themselves, saying how much they enjoy it and what it means to them to come; we’ve even had people get engaged there," Olberding says. "It’s always this really good vibe, and I think it’s one of the reasons why it’s been around for 20 years."

“It’s so easy to turn something into a negative, and if you do that, you just create more grief and more anger, and then it just never stops. I look at it and say, 'Just think of all the good that this event has done.’” 

Do Good: 

Register for the Reggae Run by participating in the race or joining in the after-party. 

• Share Maria Olberding's history by keeping her memory alive and encouraging others to participate in the Reggae Run.

• Like and share Reggae Run's Facebook page.

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.
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