By JEN CARDINES
This summer, 31 local children spent six weeks training through the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon program which will culminate on Aug. 5. Created to honor the life of Chase Kowalski, the program is designed to provide kids ages 6 to 12 with a safe, healthy non-competitive environment to discover the sport of triathlon.
Chase was one of the 20 students and six teachers who tragically passed away during the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. He was seven years old.
The Southington Community YMCA is celebrating its third year hosting the Race4Chase program in town. It is one of 20 locations participating in the 2017 youth triathlon. Every weekday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., participants meet at the YMCA to train in the water, on bicycles, and by running.
On Saturday, Aug. 5, Camp Sloper will host Connecticut’s Race4Chase Youth Triathlon finale. Last year’s event had 420 athletes compete in Southington alone and officials believe 500 will participate this time.
“It brings together kids from all different backgrounds and educates them about how to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” YMCA community development director Shannon Eterginio said. “It also teaches them the fundamentals of good nutrition under the supportive guidance of coaches, lifeguards and instructors.”
Athletes bike along the linear trail, using safety etiquette taught by the Southington Police Department. Officer Christopher Lamarre kicked off the 2017 training by talking to the children about the importance of helmets and other bicycle safety techniques.
The kids also heard from Southington resident Carina Halloran, a two-time IRONMAN competitor who spoke about working hard, but also having fun. She shared her experience at her first IRONMAN competition, featured her wet suit, talked about the importance of eating right, and showed off her medals.
Participants are broken up into swimming groups based on their skill level and utilize kickboards and pool noodles. When the 6-week training is completed, the young athletes take part in a triathlon at Camp Sloper, just as Chase did when he was six years old.
“He won in his age group of 4 to 6 year olds,” said his mother, Rebecca Kowalski. She started the program to give other students an opportunity like her son had and it quickly expanded to 20 sites in three different states. Kowalski said that after the tragedy, Newtown received a lot of support so her family wanted to “reach outside the box.”
Now, children across Connecticut, Rhode Island, and South Carolina devote summer vacation time to a healthy and active program.
“Our program is 100 percent funded by our community,” Eterginio said about Southington’s Race4Chase. “Deputy Chief William Palmieri learned that one of our participants didn’t have a bike. He showed up the next day with a brand new bike for that child to ride…a personal contribution from him.”
TOPS IGA in Southington donated healthy snacks and drinks for the children. Additionally, YMCA executive director John Myers ran four miles per day for 26 days (in honor of the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook) with the goal of raising $10,000. Each day he “challenged” another member of the community to run/walk/bike/swim in honor of the program. In the end, he raised over $15,000 to fund Race4Chase.
For more information about Race4Chase visit www.cmakfoundation.org/race4chase-2.