SOUTHINGTON — Athletes as young as six, some of whom just learned to ride a bike, will gather at the YMCA’s Camp Sloper on Saturday for this year’s Race4Chase triathlon.
Nearly 600 kids from across the state will swim, bike and run as part of the Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation’s race. The athletes have been training at YMCAs around Connecticut.
“We’ve been training for almost a full six weeks now,” said Brandon Riollano, the local YMCA’s health and wellness program director and the Race4Chase head coach.
Thirty-four Southington children, from six to 13 years old, participated in the training. For some of the youngest athletes, the first step was learning to ride a bicycle. Riollano said he had one girl, who just turned six, who was able to ride in the last week of training.
“We finally got her to ride by herself,” he said. “It’s always cool to see kids learn how to ride their bike for the first time.”
Kids without bikes are given one and can keep it if they complete the training and race. Race4Chase holds bike drives and gets them fixed up at a bike shop in Essex.
The youngest kids will swim 25 meters, bike a mile and a quarter and then run a mile and a quarter. Older kids have the same biking and running but longer swims of 50 and 100 meters.Young triathletes
Rebecca Kowalski, Chase’s mother and CMAK Foundation president, said it’s always surprising how quickly children complete the race.
“It’s ridiculous how fast some of them are,” she said. “They’re pretty amazing.”
Chase completed a triathlon at the age of six. He was among the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.
“He was just a ball of energy and he came in one day and said, ‘I want to do that thing.’ ‘What thing?’ I said. ‘The thing where you swim, bike and run,’” Kowalski said.
She and her husband found one for Chase and he finished it in about 16 minutes. Taking on three separate activities for a single race and completing them is great for children, Kowalski said.
“That’s how we honor his spirit, helping other kids have that self-esteem boost when he finished,” she said.
The six weeks of training before the race is a commitment but builds real skills as well as confidence.
“Some of these kids have never ridden a bike before, some of them have never been swimming before,” Kowalski said. “We’re teaching them a life skill.”Returning participants
The race is in its ninth year. Groups from YMCAs in Connecticut, Rhode Island and South Carolina are participating.
Participants from the first years have returned as coaches, according to Kowalski, and many kids have found a love for biking, swimming or running that they didn’t know they had.
“We have a lot of great success stories,” she said.
Riollano has also seen the triathlon spark interest among kids. He’s run Southington’s program for the past two years but it’s his seventh year with Race4Chase.
“A lot of the athletes fall in love with triathlon. They’ll continue to participate in triathlon or they’ll become a really good runner or swimmer,” Riollano said.