By BRIAN JENNINGS
John Myers has been working with the Southington YMCA for over 30 years now, currently serving as the executive director. Over the years, Myers has seen and been a part of some memorable events, but participating in this year’s Race4Chase youth triathlon was one of the top events of his whole career.
“The cause is so strong,” said Myers. “People can feel and get what it’s all about.”
The Southington YMCA began hosting Race4Chase at Camp Sloper in 2015. The Kowalski family fully funded the event that year with hopes of eventually leaving the funding in the hands of the Southington community after a few years, funding 75 percent of the event in its second year and 50 percent in its third year.
The program is now in its fourth year, and the Kowalski family has since moved on to other YMCAs in the state to get them started with funding for the event, planning to add on three or four new sites each year. After hosting the event for the past three years now, Southington YMCA’s Camp Sloper is now responsible for fully funding the event themselves, which gave Myers an idea.
Running wouldn’t just be a sustainable way to fund the program, but it would also be a way for Myers to help tell the Kowalski’s story.
“I believed in it so much,” the executive director said. “If I could help tell the story through me on a daily basis during my runs, I think others would get excited about it and would also support it.”
Myers set out to run four miles a day for 26-straight days to raise $10,000 to help fund the event and honor Chase Kowalski and the 25 others that lost their lives in the Sandy Hook tragedy. Myers ran 26 days for each person that lost their life in the tragedy, and four miles for the symbolic Race4Chase title.
“I run every day, so it’s not like the mileage killed me,” said Myers. “It’s not that every day was easy, but I could handle the mileage on that though.”
Myers currently has a streak of over 1,900-straight days of running at least two miles a day. More of a weekend-type runner, he’s running anywhere from six to 10 miles on weekend days. But if Myers is injured, sick, or presented with an 18-inch snowstorm, he will still find a way to run or walk at least a mile.
Myers didn’t face any problems during his 26-day stint though. His journey began on June 1 at the YMCA’s Learning Center, where he was cheered on by kids with supportive signage, and was joined by Chase Kowalski’s mother, Rebecca Kowalski, on her bike.
Myers ran most mornings around six o’clock from his house and finished in about 40 minutes. At the end of his runs each day, he posted quick videos to the Southington YMCA’s and his own personal Facebook page thanking someone that made a pledge or donation to the cause.
Myers ran mostly alone throughout his journey, but also mixed in group runs with local contributors, such as Progressive Pathways, a soccer club, the Thalberg morning running program, and the Southington High School track and field teams. Through these group runs, Myers spread the word about the Kowalski family’s story.
“All these people knew and heard about what happened at Sandy Hook, but now it got personalized a little bit more,” said Myers. “You get a little deeper meaning when you start to know some of these families out there and what they’ve gone through.”
Myers finished his journey on the 26th, which was ironically the first day the Race4Chase program’s six-week youth triathlon training program. Over 100 people joined in and made pledges to the cause, and Myers didn’t raise $10,000. He raised over $15,000.
“There are certain days you tear up,” said Myers. “You know where it comes from, but you don’t know when it’s going to come. It was very reflective on that last day when you start thinking about what it’s about.”
The Race4Chase program wrapped up with its finale on Aug. 5 at Camp Sloper. The Southington YMCA spent about half of the year working on the logistics for this year’s triathlon that brought together close to 500 kids from about 20 YMCA sites across three states.
“It turned out to be about this seven-year-old boy who died and left an incredible legacy,” said Myers. “It teaches kids about kindness, sportsmanship, succeeding, how to get up when you’re struggling, and having fun at the same time. It was just the most amazing event.”
First-place finishers of their respective age groups from the triathlon included Tesse Arinaitwe (male age 5), Shari Silva (female age 6), Henry Gerl (male age 6), Maria Beretta (female age 7), Matthew Stoerzinger (male age 7), Sophia Lee (female age 8), Nate Kessell (male age 8), Evelyn Orellana (female age 9), Tristan Crozier (male age 9), Bridget Connolly (female age 10), Ansel Haxhinasto (male age 10), Julia Herbert (female age 11), Vontae Meekins (male age 11), Daniela Tanaka-Sales (female age 12), Devin Moore (male age 12), Aislinn Burns (female age 13), and Aidan Nemoto (male age 13). Stoerzinger finished with the best overall time (18:11.2) in the triathlon.
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