By Pat Eaton-Robb
NEWTOWN, CONN.: Chase Kowalski loved to run, bike and swim. Most of all he loved to race.
The summer before he was killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School with 25 other students and staff, the 7-year-old competed in his first triathlon.
Wearing swim shoes and riding his red “Lightning McQueen” bicycle inspired by the speedy character from the movie Cars, Chase competed in a 20-yard swim, a half-mile ride and a third-mile run. He finished first in his age group.
Now Chase’s family has started a foundation in his memory that will help other children experience the thrill of the race.
“He swam and he biked and he ran every day, that was the essence of who he was,” his mother Rebecca said. “How could we not honor him in this way?”
The Chase Kowalski Memorial Fund is teaming with the Greater Waterbury YMCA to support that organization’s existing triathlon program for kids, and work to spread the program across the country.
Chase ran competitively for the first time when he was just 2½ years old, earning ribbons and Popsicles for his races. He ran three that day, begging his mother to let him do longer distances after each race.
Rebecca Kowalski cried as she described how a 5-year-old friend — wearing the race number 26 — went back to hold hands with Chase and help him cross the finish line after his first 400-yard race.
Chase got his first bike when he was 4, and taught himself to swim in his backyard pool by watching Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte on television at the Olympics.
At 6 years old, Chase asked if he could do one of those races where he could combine all three events.
“Stephen and I busted out laughing,” Rebecca Kowalski said, referring to her husband. “We said, ‘Dude that’s called a triathlon, maybe when you’re 16.’ ”
After much cajoling from her son, Kowalski went online to research whether anyone offered triathlons for kids. She found one scheduled for a week later about 90 minutes away.
The YMCA project, now called the Race4Chase Kid’s Triathlon Program, will train children for six weeks during the summer in the fundamentals of swimming, racing and bicycling, culminating with a short-course triathlon, where the kids will earn medals.
The foundation is working with the YMCA to set up similar Race4Chase triathlons across the country, Rebecca Kowalski said.