Rome, NY (WIBX) - Start your pledge gathering now because the 2011 America's Greatest Heart Run and Walk campaign has kicked-off.

At the annual media kick-off and news conference, it was announced that this year's Heart Run and Walk aims to raise $1.2 million to help fight heart disease and stroke.

Executive Director of the Utica Region Office of the American Heart Association Dick Mattia says they came close to reaching the $1.2 million goal last year.

"The public has been supporting us through all kinds of conditions," he said. "When things have been good, they supported us, and even when things have been economically challenging, they've supported us. And, so, we feel that we have a good chance of raising that."

Mattia says there will be a few changes this year with some of the satellite activities. He said instead of taking place in February, like in past years, the Walk and Run in Oneonta is taking place after the main event at Utica College, later in March. And, the annual kid's educational event is also taking place after the main event, later in March, at a new location at Proctor High School--last year the educational event was held at the New York Mills school.

Also announced at the event was this year's Red Cap Ambassadors, including now 15-year-old Benjamin Sklar who was born with congenital heart disease.

Sklar says the American Heart Association is very important to him.

"I feel like it's very good to help them out and give them money so they can help other kids who had problems like me," he said. "Because, if I was born, maybe, ten years earlier, I may not have been alive because of all the research to solve the problem that I had."

He says the Heart Run and Walk is good for the area because while people are walking, they can think about all the good things they're doing and how much it helps people.

The other Red Cap Ambassadors this year are Ondrea Grippe-Getz, Karlee Houck and Quintin Morris.

Grippe-Getz, who had open-heart surgery when she was 7 years old, says when she had her surgery, she never forgot how much the community cared and supported her.

"This community is amazing at how they come together," she said. "I do the Heart Run every year and I think it's so close-knit and they really want to help everybody. And, it seems like everyone knows somebody who has been affected with heart disease, so I really think it all comes together."

America's Greatest Heart Run and Walk is Saturday, March 5.

And, be sure to tune in to WIBX-AM for our annual Heart Radiothon March 4 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and March 5 from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m.