By SHERIDAN ROY
More than 500 youth athletes and their families arrived at YMCA Camp Sloper bright and early on Saturday, Aug. 3 for the sixth annual Race4Chase, a youth triathlon in honor of Chase Kowalski who was one of the students tragically killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, 2012.
Of the 515 triathletes in three different age groups, 491 completed the course. “This is an amazing event,” said Rebecca Kowalski, Chase’s mother. “There are so many people here helping to honor Chase’s memory.”
What began as three different Race4Chase triathlon programs and about 90 participants in its first year has grown to 26 programs across multiple states: 15 in Connecticut, six in South Carolina and five in Rhode Island. The program is ran by the Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski (CMAK) Foundation, a Sandy Hook memorial foundation.
Chase was an up-and-coming athlete and was sure to go far. At age six, he participated in his first triathlon. The Race4Chase program allows other young athletes to feel the same empowerment and thrill that Chase did after his first race.
“Today, we will see over 500 athletes reach their goals that they’ve worked towards for six weeks,” said Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA CEO Mark Pooler before the race. “At Camp Sloper, we focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, and this event covers all of those initiatives. We are so happy to host this event and to partner with great organizations to make this happen.”
Leading up to the day of the race, young athletes participate in a free, six-week training program, working with coaches and learning the course of the race. Not only do they grow as athletes, but they make friends and long-lasting memories.
Rebecca Kowalski said the athletes get to feel the same thrill Chase felt after he finished his first triathlon.
“We hope you will experience the magic,” Chase’s mom told youth during opening ceremonies. “You’ve got this. You can do it. Your friend Chase is here if you need him.”
Race4Chase is offered to young athletes at no cost through fundraising efforts at the YMCA. For 26 straight days, in honor of the 26 lives lost, volunteers ran 2.6 miles a day. Starting July 1, Pooler kicked off the fundraising campaign and ran 2.6 miles at Camp Sloper. Each new day, one new volunteer joined him. By July 26, a total of 26 volunteers ran the course.
Each volunteer was asked to gain monetary donations with an overall goal of $350 per person to help raise a total of $9,000. Fundraising efforts allowed over 500 young athletes to participate in the race.