Chase Kowalski was a doer.
Full of energy, he would take every opportunity to ride his bike, a horse, a quad, go fishing or work on his swimming, according to his mom, Rebecca Kowalski. He did a triathlon at age 6 and won his age group.
Chase was also a baseball player, a third baseman who wore No. 8 and the fastest kid on his team, his mom said. His coach used to have kids run extra laps when Chase lapped them in warmups.
A decade later, kids are still doing laps because of Chase — now to honor his memory after Chase was killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
“His life was cut short, but I think in those seven years he lived more and did more than most people would ever have an opportunity to do,” Rebecca Kowalski, a triathlete herself, said.
More than 500 children ages 5 to 13 participated in the finale of the ninth annual Race4Chase triathlon program in honor of Chase Kowalski at YMCA Camp Sloper in Southington on Saturday. In the six weeks leading up to the event, campers from 17 YMCA camps from across the state and another 12 other states received training on how to be triathletes.
“It’s really cool to watch all these little kids cheering on other kids, some of them that they don’t know, all to honor my son Chase,” Rebecca Kowalski said.
Before the triathlon started, the young triathletes packed in the amphitheater at Camp Sloper, tucked under the shade of the surrounding trees and next to Slopers Pond. They chanted “Race4Chase” and waited patiently while counselors gave instructions and acknowledged the multiyear participants. Then they went off to compete in different age groups, swimming, biking and running their way to the finish line.
“We have a lot of amazing days at Sloper, but this is a special one,” Justin Hubeny, camp director at YMCA Camp Sloper, said. “The energy, the excitement. That thousands of people are behind this and are doing it for the purpose of Chase Kowalski is amazing. I love this day and I look forward to it every year.”
Ben Silliman, camp director at YMCA Camp Ingersoll and Race4Chase volunteer, said the event represents “what we can do as people and as a community.”
Dana Sherwonit, mom to competitor Ayden, said her son looks forward to the teamwork with the other athletes. “He loves a challenge and being out here with all the new friends that he meets,” Sherwonit said.
The hardest part was the running, Greyson Colwell, 6, of Cheshire, said, but the biking was easy.
Paula Mathews, whose grandson Noah competed Saturday, said Noah burst with excitement when he got down to the water to swim. He was jumping and waving at them from the water.
Race4Chase is run by the CMAK Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation, which is spearheaded by Rebecca and Stephen Kowalski. It is a USAT-sanctioned youth triathlon, according to the CMAK Foundation’s website.