Red Cap Ambassadors will share their stories at America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk

Jim Stasaitis
Tyliana Bernier

America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk may be turning 50 this year, but March 2 marks a special day for Red Cap Ambassador Tyliana Bernier: it’s her fifth birthday. She will celebrate that birthday on stage during closing ceremonies after the Heart Run & Walk, at 11:30 a.m. in the Clark Athletic Center at Utica University.

Tyliana was born with a hole in her heart, and a heart murmur.

“The doctors wanted to wait to do the surgery,” said her mother, Felicia Jimenez. “But her left ventricle began pumping too much blood, which would eventually lead to going into her lungs. They thought it was time to do the surgery.”

This past summer, Tyliana had open-heart surgery in Albany, and now she’s doing great.

“She says you can’t hear her ‘little heart beeping’ anymore,” Jimenez said.

Tyliana, her mom, her dad, John Bernier, Jr., and her older sister Riley Bernier, live in Ilion.

“Tyliana will start school this year,” Jimenez said. “She’s doing great, after her surgery. She’s very intelligent, and she’s a character.”

Jim Stasaitis has been volunteering with America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk for 37 years. 

This year, during the 50th anniversary of America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, Stasaitis will be a Red Cap Ambassador to the Heart Run & Walk.

Stasaitis first got involved by doing the 18-mile run part of the event. He raised $1250 in his first year.

As president of the Utica Road Runners, he brought his group to stuff the goody bags for America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk. He soon became the course director for America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, a position he held for 18 years, and has returned to in this anniversary year of America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk.

“Little did I know that all the people contributing to America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk would one day save my life,” Stasaitis said.

His personal heart journey started the week before Labor Day in 2015. While mowing the lawn, he felt what he called a “grab” in the right side of his chest. Since he and his wife had been packing in preparation for moving, he thought it was a pulled or strained muscle.

A week later, again while mowing, he felt the same “grab,” and this time, some discomfort in his jaw. Since he had a doctor’s appointment the following week, and a stress test within the year that was fine, he went ahead with his plans to go to Florida.

“After being involved with the Heart Association for 30+ years, you’d think I would have gone straight to the hospital,” Stasaitis said. “But because I was in halfway decent shape, the male macho voice inside my head was saying, ‘hey, this can’t happen to me.’”

But instead of relaxing by the pool in Florida, his symptoms worsened, to the point that he needed to sit down to catch his breath while out for a walk.

He decided that if he had to be in a  hospital, he wanted to be home, so he and his wife, Jan, flew home the next day.

In the emergency room, he told them about his family history, and a cardiac catheterization found a 99% blockage in his Left Anterior Descending Artery. Doctors cleared the blockage and implanted a stent. He had a heart attack during the procedure, but it didn’t inflict any damage.

Team Stasaitis is always one of the top fundraising teams in America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk.

“The procedures used and new medications that I’m on are a direct result of research that was funded by the American Heart Association,” Stasaitis said.  “Because pf the money raised at America’s Greatest Heart Run& Walk over the years, my life was saved.”

Stasaitis is part of America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk to help save more lives. He’s excited that the event is going back to its roots, taking place on March 2, and bringing back the 18-mile run that started his journey with the Heart Association.

“America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk is the greatest cure for cabin fever in Central New York,” Stasaitis said. “it’s also a good chance to do something good for your own  health, and for others. Every penny counts when it comes to research.”

Stasaitis, 71, was born and raised in Utica. He’s been the Race Director for the Boilermaker for 16 years.

To be part of America’s Greatest Heart Run & Walk, visit