Earn your beads at a Mardi Gras run in Lakewood Ranch

Article by Jay Heater, Observer, January 20, 2023

It started because Central Park’s Annemarie Neubecker wanted to help.

And now, 2.5 years later, she is following an unexpected course.

Neubecker is the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund committee chair for the Feb. 18 “Run for the Beads,” a 5K run/walk with a goal of generating funds for regional nonprofits. The event will be held at Waterside Place.

It is a daunting task for someone who has never organized a running event fundraiser. The biggest challenge was how to separate the event from the dozens of garden-variety runs.

Neubecker had an idea. Mardi Gras.

“I had done some research on Mardi Gras races,” Neubecker said. “There are none here. So I thought, this time of year is a good time for races because it’s cooler. The chance of no rain is pretty good.

“We could do something cool. I knew nothing about races, but I came up with a theme and people loved it.”

The event is part of a more aggressive trend by the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund to brand itself and to raise more money for the region’s nonprofits. That movement began in October with the fund’s first Wine & Giving event that was held at Esplanade Golf and Country Club. The fundraiser generated a net profit of more than $60,000.

“Run for the Beads” will be the fund’s second big event meant to not only raise funds, but to introduce itself to the community.

Those introductions will be limited, though, if Neubecker and her committee members can’t draw a large crowd to Waterside Place.

One of Neubecker’s selling points is the race’s after-party. Certainly, she wants as many die-hard runners as possible, and toward that goal she enlisted Fit to Run to handle the event’s nuts and bolts. Fit to Run oversees all of the region’s top runs, and while it does take a monetary investment, it shows the serious runners that everything they need will be in place.

Fast runners, however, can sometimes be seen running away from events as soon as they cross the finish line. Neubecker wants those who participate in “Run to the Beads,” to know the party is just starting after the run is over.

That can be difficult when the race begins at 8 a.m.

“We thought about how do we put it all together,” Neubecker said.

One ways is to give things away. Enter all the participants’ numbers into a hat and hold prize drawings.

“We have some good giveaways,” she said. “We have $300 of Fit to Run cards that we will be giving away in increments of $50.”

Other businesses, such as 3 Form Fitness at Waterside Place, also donated items for the drawing.

Participants are being encouraged to dress in Mardi Gras attire to help build a fun atmosphere.  Anyone who registers will receive beads and masks (of the Mardi Gras variety) in their packet.

DJ Jose Ramirez will keep the tunes spinning and Neubecker is working on some live music. 

As runners come through the finish line, they will be handed fleur-de-lis necklaces.

An actual awards ceremony will be held to honor the top male and female runners. Awards will be handed out for best costume and largest community or workplace team. 

Professional clowns will be entertaining throughout the after-party. Artists will perform body and face painting for both adults and kids.

There will be beer, and beignets, not necessarily together.

Food trucks will include Shiny Gumbo, Bowled Life and Carousel’s Soft Serve Icery. The kids can whack a pinada or do crafts at the mask-making table.

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