SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Nearly 500 children showed up Saturday to swim, bicycle and run in the fourth annual statewide Race4Chase youth triathlon, the finale of a summer fitness program founded by the family of a boy killed in the Sandy Hook shootings.
Seven-year-old Chase Kowalski had competed in his first youth triathlon just months before he was shot to death along with 25 others at the Connecticut elementary school in December 2012.
Rebecca Kowalski said she and her husband, Steve, began the Race4Chase program because they wanted to honor their son's memory with something that focused on families, health and wellness.
Race4Chase is a free, six-week day camp, run in conjunction with local YMCAs, which teaches children the fundamentals of swimming, biking, running, good nutrition, strength and flexibility.
At the end the six weeks, campers come together for a sanctioned triathlon. Racers go off in waves and the length of each race varies with the age of the campers.
The Connecticut athletes, between the ages of 6 and 12, gathered in the pouring rain Saturday at the YMCA's Camp Sloper. About 120 children participated a week ago in Clover, South Carolina, for that state's finale. The Rhode Island Race4Chase is scheduled for next Saturday at Fort Adams State Park in Newport.
Riley and Dylan Trask, 12-year-old twins from Bethel, took part for the second year. Their mom, Robin Grosvenor, said in addition to becoming better athletes, they've become more confident people.
"They feel like they can achieve more," Grosvernor said. "They feel like nothing is impossible now. Before they didn't think they could do it, but now they know they can do it. They talk about this all year and they are really sad they will be too old to do it again next year."
The program began at three sites in Connecticut in 2014 and has since grown to 20 locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
"The dream for us is to go nationwide," said Rebecca Kowalski. "People have really embraced what this program is all about and that's bringing families and communities together to spend healthy time."