20200210-LOC-red cap run

Kelly Choate / Sentinel Staff

Runners start the Red Cap Run in Keene on Saturday morning.

After a day of snow, freezing rain and power outages, the sun came out on a chilly Saturday morning and so did 370 runners and volunteers for this year’s 5K Red Cap Run in Keene. The race benefited Bella Melendy, 7, of Keene and her family.

The annual run, organized by the Body & Soul Runners of Keene, is now in its sixth year. In 2015, the first Red Cap Run started as a fundraiser for the family of Keene resident Kenneth C. “Kenny” Valenti Jr., who was killed in a work-related accident in Troy in 2014.

Last year, Bella sustained a traumatic head injury after a sledding accident in February. She had to wear a neck brace for months and take the rest of the school year off. She has since gone back to school, but continues to have effects from the injury.

Because Bella is sensitive to crowds and loud noises, instead of clapping for the winners of the race, spectators waved both hands in the air to congratulate them. Bella was able to watch the festivities as the celebration was kept at a low volume.

Organizer Sara Alderfer, owner of Body & Soul Personalized Fitness in Keene, asked runners to look around at one another at the start of the race at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Keene. “Everyone here is a good person,” she said. “Take a moment to appreciate each other’s efforts.”

Ahead of the event, Alderfer and other organizers, traveled to elementary and middle schools in N.H. School Administrative Units 29 and 93 to talk about the importance of helmet safety, with Bella and her mother, Crystal Melendy, able to join them at some stops.

In the wake of this year’s Red Cap Run, Nelson School has created a new policy requiring students to wear a helmet when sledding at the school. It will go in effect after February break.

Schools were given papers with helmets on them for students to color in. The finished products were hung around the event room at the Courtyard Marriott, where pre- and post-race festivities were held.

The Keene Kiwanis Club gave away free helmets to kids at the event.

Keene Mayor George Hansel applauded the community of runners and volunteers. “This event, and the DeMar marathon and everything else that people in this room participate in,” he said, “you have proven that the city of Keene is a city that runs.”

More than 90 local businesses sponsored the event, with 30 donating prizes.

“To have people that don’t me, that don’t know my children, especially Bella, to have all of this outpouring love and support for something that could have turned out so horrible, you guys are all amazing,” Crystal Melendy told the crowd after the race. “The kids, you guys rock.”

Each of the participants received a heart-shaped chocolate “medal.” Race medals were given to the runners with the top three times in each age category, as well as to the top three winners of a children’s mile race.

Thomas Paquette, 28, of Keene was the fastest overall male with a time of 17:42, and Erica Boutilette, 30, of Spofford was fastest overall female with a time of 21:14.