Foundation turns ‘tragedy to triumph’ with youth triathlon in Southington

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SOUTHINGTON — When Chase Kowalski of Newtown decided he wanted to participate in a triathlon at the age of 6, he surprised his parents. After Kowalski lost his life in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, his parents honored him by inspiring other young children. 

Over 600 participants gathered at YMCA Camp Sloper in Southington for the eighth annual Race4Chase triathlon, a free program the Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Foundation created one year after the tragedy. 

“Today is a huge accomplishment,” Rebecca Kowalski, Chase Kowalski’s mother and co-founder of the foundation, said during opening remarks. “Not everyone can call themselves a triathlete at the age of 5 or some before the age of 14. Not every parent can say their child competed in a triathlon this summer.”

Chase Kowalski taught himself to swim by watching the Olympics and loved to play sports, especially baseball. When he participated in his first triathlon, Kowalski placed first in his age group and was so proud to show off his accomplishment. 

The six week goal-oriented program, allows children all over the state ages 6-12 to receive instruction in swimming, cycling and running. At the end of the 6 weeks, participants from across the state come together to compete in the finale. 

If a child does not know how to swim or ride a bike, they are taught during the six weeks and are also provided with a bike for free, if needed. 

The participants and families talked, smiled and cheered each other on through each course. They all knew it wasn’t about when they finished, but the fun they had and the life they were honoring. 

Ben Chase from Southington completed the race for the second time this year. He said his favorite part of the race was running and hardest was the “Chase Challenge,” a steep hill the participants run up shortly before the end of the race. 

“I felt more confident this time because I knew I had done it before,” the 9-year-old said. “It felt really good because I knew I was doing it for a cause. I was doing it for Chase.”

Brandon Riollano was the head coach from the Southington YMCA and this was the first year he was in charge of the entire race. 

“It’s so heartwarming, it makes me tear up,” Riollano said. “It’s honestly one of my favorite things I do at the Y. This is the best experience I can possibly have, seeing those little happy faces, teaching them how to ride the bikes, it’s awesome.”

According to the website, The Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Foundation’s vision is to “turn tragedy to triumph by healing and strengthening families and communities.”

“Chase has been the guiding light and inspiration for this foundation and program,” Kowalski said. “Chase enjoyed everything and everyone in his life. We honor his spirit and we celebrate the amazing accomplishment of being a triathlete.”

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