MANCHESTER - There were runners, walkers and even casual strollers at Derryfield Park on Saturday - all with a common goal of getting their hearts pumping in the name of helping others with cardiac care.
The American Heart Association's annual Heart Walk was a clearly a success even before participants reached the finish of the three-mile or one-mile courses on a cool, sunny morning at the park east of downtown.
"This is a great event. This is the best year we've had in probably eight years," said Cindy Rybczyk, the American Heart Association's director of Heart Walks in New Hampshire. "A lot of hard work. A great committee, great leadership and great passion. A lot of people here are really connected to the cause and they rallied."
The Union Leader co-sponsored the event, which organizers hoped would bring in more than $200,000 for the AHA. More than 700 people registered, about 100 more than 2013, and the funds raised was about $180,000 - and counting - as of Saturday afternoon.
Other sponsors for the event were Merrimack Mortgage, Hannaford's, Northwestern Mutual, Catholic Medical Center and 96.5 FM "The Mill."
Some businesses contributed through employees that participated in the walk.
Rybczyk said participants have another three weeks to add sponsors and donations. She said last year another $20,000 came in after the walk itself for a total of $133,000.
There were about 100 teams walking, representing more than three dozen businesses, some of which had programs to match donations and pledges employees received before or after the walk.
Other groups were more casual, formed by a group of friends or relatives of somebody affected by a heart attack or stroke.
"My family was personally impacted by heart disease, but also it's just a great fun family event to bring the dog and the kids and just promote heart health," said Caryn Blake, who walked the three miles with her dog Sheldon, who set much of the pace at the end of his leash. "It's a great, beautiful day out. This promotes heart health and we're supporting a good cause."
Blake and Sheldon both donned green Fidelity Investments T-shirts. She captained a team of about 10 from Fidelity that had raised nearly $500 before the walk.
Fidelity had 88 registered participants representing the company and led all groups in pledges with more than $16,800.
Elliot Health Systems was also well-represented with blue T-shirts.
Jessica Kallis of Manchester and a group of fitness friends joined Tina Ruggiero, an Elliot cardiology nurse, who also enlisted a group of fitness friends that included amateur photographer Joe Drapeau of Bedford. He donated a group of his photographs for an auction that added $135 to the Heart Walk fund.
Drapeau also assisted teammate Lily, a West Highland terrier that owner Jessica Kallis said was tuckered out after a morning of hiking Mount Uncunoonock in Goffstown. Lily made it another 2 1/2 miles at the park before hitching a ride in Drapeau's backpack for the final stretch.
"She was just tired," Drapeau said. "We brought the pack just in case."
Additional donations can be made at nhheartwalk.org.