SOUTHINGTON, Conn. — About 500 children from across Connecticut gathered at Camp Sloper in Southington Saturday morning for the finale of their six-week Race4Chase triathlon program. The program honors Chase Kowalski, who died in the Sandy Hook school shooting at the age of 7.
Chase's parents, Rebecca and Stephen, founded the Chase Michael-Anthony Kowalski Foundation which funds the Race4Chase program.
Chase competed in his first youth triathlon just months before he and 25 others were killed.
"Our mission is to honor the spirit of Chase and to help communities through health and wellness," said Rebecca Kowalski.
The CMAK Foundation provides grants to 17 regional YMCAs and the Newtown Community Center to hold free, six-week camps for children aged 5 to 13, where they receive training to be triathletes.
After the six-week program, the 18 Connecticut camps gather at Camp Sloper to run a real USAT-sanctioned kids' triathlon.
Kids who do not know how to swim or bike are taught. Advanced kids receive additional training. If kids do not have a bike, they are given a free one. At many of the camps, free breakfast and lunches are provided so that there are no barriers to participation.
"This is what YMCAs are all about. Youth development, healthy living and social responsibility and this particular program has a touch of all of those," said Mark Pooler, CEO of Southington-Cheshire Community YMCAs.
"[Kids] get to spend all summer honing their skills. You see, kids that are very young all the way to almost high school, and a lot of the kids that have completed the program come back and are counselors, so they pay it forward," said Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.
It's a mission that can never be measured in just miles.
"This is a very meaningful day for the Kowalski family. We're very happy to support them and of course, keep Chase in our hearts and remember him," said Pooler.
"There are so many children out there that don't have this opportunity, don't know how to swim, bike or run and for us to put it together and to give them this opportunity, it builds their self-esteem, builds their character," said Kowalski.
Race4Chase has also grown considerably outside of the state, with 12 other sites in Rhode Island and South Carolina.
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