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Runner takes pride in his city

Date: 4/11/2012

April 11, 2012

By Chris Maza

HOLYOKE — It's 2 p.m. on the Saturday before Easter and Harry Melendez is standing next to a table at the Dam Café talking to a couple, still wearing the running clothes he used to compete in a 5K in Belchertown earlier in the day.

Most notable is the purple shirt with white lettering that reads, "I'm Running for Holyoke." It's that phrase that he is discussing with two folks he never met before, a message touting not only physical fitness, but also community togetherness.

It's a topic that he engages with excitement, not only apparent in his voice, but in his eyes and his mannerisms as he talks about it.

Embodying a motto of "Start small, dream big," the Holyoke native and recent Trinity College graduate has transformed the running portion of the training he engages in as he pursues a chance to play in the National Football League into a community outreach program through a grassroots campaign.

"Running is part of the cardio aspect of my training. People had asked me in the past if they could train with me, but my regiment is so specific to me, it would be difficult for others to do it with me," he said. "But the more I thought about it, the running was something others could do with me. So we started out with a small group that ran together and it's grown from there."

Since the group runs began, the numbers participating have grown, mostly thanks to word of mouth and now 25 to 30 runners, most wearing the same shirt proudly displaying "I'm Running for Holyoke," participate in regular running sessions. A group for walkers has also formed.

One of the most positive aspects of the group, Melendez said, is that it has fostered a sense of pride for its participants — pride not only in themselves but in the community to which they belong.

"It embodies Holyoke," Melendez said. "It's not about myself, it's not about any individual on the team. It's about a community coming together to do something positive."

In addition to the runs, Melendez, who graduated from Holyoke High School in 2006 before attending Suffield Academy for a postgraduate year, then moving on to Trinity, has talked to school assemblies and youth groups about being physically active and productive members of society, stressing that the children are a reflection of the community.

"When I was at Suffield Academy, and then at Trinity, and I would tell people where I was from, they would say, 'Holyoke? Isn't that the place where you have to worry about getting stabbed or shot?'" he said. "I realized then that I was representing something more than myself and it was my responsibility to show people that while there are neighborhoods that have their problems, Holyoke is a place filled with good people. Kids need to realize that, too."

Now Melendez is hoping to take a giant leap in community awareness with an event on April 21 at which he hopes to draw 1,000 runners and walkers.

"This isn't a race. It's a community event," Melendez said of the run/walk, which starts at CareerPoint on High Street and concludes at City Hall.

[I'M] Nobody Productions will be filming the event in order to create a commercial for the city.

"We want to show people that there are good people making positive things happen in Holyoke," Melendez said.

Registration is required for the event with a $35 fee. Those who register will receive an "I'm Running for Holyoke" hooded sweatshirt and commemorative wristband, as well as the opportunity to be part of the video. Those who already have a shirt can pay a discounted registration fee of $10.

The registration fees and shirt sales go to several different causes.

"We look at things on a case-by-case basis, but for example, we run a lot of 5Ks that require registration fees and not everyone can afford them," Melendez said. "We'll work with people and help pay some of that cost so more people can participate."

To register, contact Melendez at 210-2200 or Information on the April 21 event can also be found at

"I'm Running for Holyoke" also has a general Facebook page at

While information is available on the Internet, Melendez said one of the best ways he's found to get the word out has been face-to-face communication. He regularly wears his "I'm Running for Holyoke" gear in order for people to easily recognize him and talk to him.

"I'm humble about everything that I do, but I'm starting to realize that I'm a figure," he said. "I want to let people know that it's cool to come up to me and say, 'Hi' to me. I try as much as I can to talk to people and get the name out there and let people know we're doing something positive and get people involved."

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