By TAYLOR HARTZ
YMCA Camp Sloper will host a youth triathlon this Saturday, sponsored by the CMAK Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation and the Race4Chase Kids’ Triathlon Program.
Open to children ages 6 to 12 years old, the Race4Chase program began in memory of Chase Kowalski, who was a victim the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.
Kowalski, 6, began running competitively at age 2 and had completed his first triathlon shortly before the Newtown tragedy.
His family began the triathlon program “to turn tragedy into triumph by healing and strengthening our families and communities,” and they have raised just under $90,000 to date.
Camp Sloper was one of eight YMCAs in the state chosen to participate in the triathlon, which offers a free six-week training program for participants. On Saturday, Sloper will host the program’s finale, with more than 250 kids from YMCAs across the state competing in their first full triathlon.
YMCA Executive Director John Meyers worked with Jim O’Rourke to allow Southington’s central location to be used for the culminating event.
Earlier this summer, applications were sent through schools to children who were eligible for the free or reduced lunch program in Southington Public Schools. This application process allowed the free event to target children who may experience financial hardship when it comes to funding summer activities.
After the initial applications were sent, registration was opened to all students, and those involved in running clubs were especially encouraged the join.
This summer, 19 Southington children have had this opportunity to train for the triathlon at no cost, and they have been training for three hours each week day morning.
Karen DiGirolamo, Health and Wellness Director at the Southington YMCA, said the event inspires their focus on youth development and healthy living.
Other organizations have come on board to help bring that focus to Sloper, said DiGirolamo, sharing that Bread for Life has provided a pack of healthy snacks to each participant every day for six weeks. DiGirolamo said that she has seen the camp and the community come together to help support this positive event, and to honor the memory of Kowalski.
“Not only are kids fully engaged in healthy physical activity, they have learned and improved important skills like swimming, biking and running,” she said. “They have built self esteem and learned how to cheer other on during this process in a healthy non-competitive environment.”
The triathlon will take place at Camp Sloper on Saturday, Aug. 1. Announcements will begin at 9 a.m., followed by the first wave of participants. The third and final wave will begin at 11 a.m., with an award ceremony following the finish. The public is invited to view the competition.