Kelli Hutchison lost her battle with cancer in 2010, when she was 10 years old. Friends, family and parishioners of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church honor and remember her at the annual Kelli’s 5K, a community oriented track and trail run and walk.
The race, originally called the St. Ann’s 5K, began as a way for the church to do community outreach and fundraising, generate interest in the church and give back to the community, said Barney Boynton, co-director of the race. In the second year of the event, Kelli, whose family attends St. Ann’s, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The proceeds that year were donated to the Maine Children’s Cancer Program in honor of Kelli, said her mother, Melissa.
Boynton said that after Kelli’s diagnosis, The Hutchisons participated in the 5K, all sporting “Team Kelli” t-shirts. When Kelli lost her battle against the cancer, Boynton said, it was crushing to the community, her family and friends. To honor her memory, the race was renamed Kelli’s 5K. Fundraising efforts had begun to build the Kelli Hutchison Memorial Playground at St. Ann’s, he said, and the money raised at the race that year contributed to that fund.
That year, new Team Kelli t-shirts were printed, a tradition that has carried on, evolving this year into a t-shirt design contest won by 11-year-old Vacation Bible School participant Maeve Higgins. This year’s t-shirt design incorporated ladybugs, the “unofficial theme” of the playground, said Boynton, due to some popular bouncing ladybugs.
Kelli’s family participates in the event each year, and chooses the charity that will benefit from the proceeds. This year, the approximately $3,000 raised will be split between maintenance of the Kelli Hutchison Memorial Playground, the Windham Primary School Playground Fund and St. Ann’s capital campaign.
Melissa said that the event is very special to her. Every year, she said, she wants to say something to the crowd, but it’s still difficult emotionally to do so. But each year gets easier, too, she said. “Last year I found myself speaking to more and more people that were there, and it was still hard. I’d still tear up. But in a way, it’s helpful and I know it’s emotional to them, too,” she said. The event helps keep Kelli alive in a way, she said. “It’s very touching that people still remember her, and still want to do this in her memory. It touches my heart every time I go by that playground where I see kids playing. It thrills me, and I know it would thrill Kelli,” she said.
This year, the Kelli 5K was held on Saturday, August 17, a beautiful summer day perfect for running or walking. The race is intentionally low key, said Boynton. They try to make the event very down home, a throwback to simpler races. An average of 100 people between the run and the walk is typical, and meets their goal of keeping it smaller and more family-oriented, Boynton said. The registration fee is also low, just $15 per person. And to make it easier for families who may want to participate together but can’t afford the fee for a larger family, any Windham student, and any teenager or child who is a parishioner at St. Ann’s can participate for free.
This year, 62 runners and walkers pre-registered, and several more entered on the day of the event. A comfortable, close knit community feel permeated the event, with children and adults laughing, talking and cheering each other on. This race is more about community than winning. It’s a day for friends and family to come together to remember the brave and vibrant little girl, and have a lot of fun. That makes it an event Kelli would have loved, said her father Mike. “Kelli was the kind of kid who was all about the fun,” he said, and she was always in the middle of activity, he added. He said it’s an honor to the family to have this event held in her memory. “The event represents Kelli extremely well. It’s a day she would be thrilled with,” he said.
The event began with Boynton and Cushing explaining the routes for both runners and walkers. Father Tim Higgins, the reverend at St. Ann’s, thanked everyone for coming out and asked people to take a silent moment to remember a time spent with Kelli. Then, the runners were off, doing a lap and a half around the track before exiting for the trails. When the runners had cleared the track, the walkers began with one lap around before heading off to make three loops around the High School campus.
Though the race isn’t focused on winning, it is a timed race, and there was an awards ceremony at the end with trophies for the adult male and female winners, Betty Reez gourmet whoopee pies. The awards ceremony began with a thank you to the event sponsors, followed by the announcement of winners. The top adult male runner was Josh Zolla, with a time of 17:29. The top adult female was Reegan Brown, with a time of 24:13. In the teen categories, the top male was Ben Breton, with a time of 20:21 and the top female was Anna Foster with a time of 24:27. A series of raffle drawings gave participants a chance at winning a variety of prizes. Finally, a lighthearted auction was held for one dozen of the tempting whoopee pie treats, with the winning bid raising an additional $100 for the event.