The Marathon Man

Niké Cline-Bailey

By Suzanne Buzek

Doug Olberding has an on-campus parking spot in the Armory parking lot, but tries to use it as little as possible. Instead, the chair and associate professor for the Department of Sport Studies, who also serves on the University?s Sustainability Committee, prefers riding his bicycle or running to work from his home?a distance of about five miles.

 ?I like to ride my bike or run to work because it?s an easy way for me to build fitness into my daily routine,? Olberding says. ?Also, I feel really good about cycling to campus when gas is $4.00 per gallon.?

Olberding rode his bike to Xavier on his first day 10 years ago, and often rides or runs despite inclement weather. While he prefers these modes of transportation, he sometimes breaks down and drives his car, especially if the snow is piling up outside or he has post-work commitments to attend to.

?I've gotten wimpier in my old age,? Olberding jokes. ?It can be a struggle when it?s cold, raining or snowing, especially when I ride to work and the weather is nice, but it starts raining when it's time to go home, and I?m stuck without the proper gear. Fortunately that doesn't happen often.?

Olberding has always valued his fitness. He used to race bikes but now focuses more on running. He qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon in 2007?not to mention the scores of other running races he in which he has participated?and has grown to truly love being part of the communities and networks of fellow runners.

?Anytime you are out on the streets, interacting with people, it benefits the community,? he says. ?There are tons of social networks for runners, cyclists and fitness enthusiasts?all great people to know.?

Running and fitness also has a deeper meaning for Olberding and his family. Olberding?s sister, Maria, was murdered in May of 1994 while going on a daily run. The two were training together for a marathon, and the sudden loss made Olberding question a lot of what he was doing.

?You know how you have those life-changing events? That was one of them,? Olberding says. ?I was in line for a promotion at work, and I was going to be made head of this division. At the same time, I was thinking, ?Life is too short, I don?t want to deal with state budgets and tax policy for the rest of my life.??

So Olberding made a leap of faith and landed on both feet. In the fall of that same year, he enrolled in the new sport management program at the University of Kentucky to earn his doctoral degree. In the background, he and his family and friends were working on a project of their own to commemorate Maria?s life: the Reggae Run.

?A friend of Maria?s, who was a friend to all of us, came to us and said, ?We should do a race for Maria,? ? Olberding recalls. ?We didn?t know the first thing about putting on a race.

?We had his idea,? he continues. ?She loved reggae music, she had a favorite reggae band, she worked at The Beach Water Park, and she had started Reggae Days there. So we said aloud, ?Let?s do the Reggae Run.? And it clicked, just like that. We called the band, and we got everything set up at Ault Park for that October.?

The first year of the Reggae Run was an overwhelming success with around 3,000 runners participating in the race, which made it one of the largest debut races in Cincinnati. The family raised a lot of money?unintentionally?through people chipping in.

?We were doing it by the seat of our pants, but by the fourth year we formed a non-profit foundation, the Maria Olberding Foundation, to raise money to support children with special needs in the Cincinnati area, and it?s through the Make-a-Wish Foundation,? says Olberding. ?We are the largest non-corporate donor to Make-a-Wish in this region.?

In addition to working as chair for the Reggae Run, Olberding recently started a two-year term as chair of the Flying Pig Marathon. A member of the Flying Pig board of directors for seven years, he realizes that working for the Pig is quite different from putting together the Reggae Run. One of those differences is the sustaining emotional attachment and important relationships formed around the Reggae Run.

?What?s funny about it, when I first came to Xavier, the Reggae Run was several years old at that point, and I was really cautious about telling people about it. I didn?t want it to seem like I was mixing my role here at Xavier with the Reggae Run," he says. "But really, this is part of who I am, so I embrace that in ways that make sense, like inviting my sports marketing or management classes to help out.?