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The spirit of Chase Kowalski lives on through Race4Chase.
Chase Kowalski was not even three years old when he ran his first race.
“His older sisters ran in a summer track program on Wednesday nights, and he asked if he could do it,” recalls Chase’s mother, Rebecca. “I spoke to my neighbor, who ran the program, and she said Chase could do the 50-meter dash. He ran that one, then asked if he could do another race.”
Chase completed the 100-meter dash, then asked to run the next race, too. After securing permission from the program organizer, the young boy lined up with the “big kids” from kindergarten for 400 meters, or a full lap around the track.
“He ran his heart out,” said Rebecca. “The bigger boys finished way before him, but he kept going and never gave up.”
To say Chase Kowalski was an active boy was an understatement. His toddler track debut gave way to an obsession with riding bikes—first a pink hand-me-down tricycle from his sisters, then a “Lightning McQueen” bike. During the 2012 Olympics, Chase watched the swim races, then jumped in the backyard pool to mimic their freestyle.
Rebecca was making dinner one night when Chase came in from the pool.
“Mom, I want to do one of those races where you swim, bike, and run.” Chase pleaded.
“I don’t think they do that for little kids, honey,” was Rebecca’s reply.
Chase handed her an iPad, having already done the research.
“He found a kids’ race taking place the following weekend,” recalls Rebecca. “We signed him up that night.”
At six years old, Chase Kowalski won his age group at the “Kids Who Succeed Triathlon” in Mansfield, Conn. When he went to school the following Monday, he proudly showed his class the race numbers on his skin and the medal around his neck.
“The triathlon medal was a prized possession for him,” said Rebecca, “Had he been given the the opportunity, I think he would have become a world class athlete.”
On Dec. 14, 2012, the young athlete’s life was cut tragically short at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Chase was one of 20 children and 6 adults killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history.
In the midst of their overwhelming grief, the Kowalski family found support in the endurance community. Runners and triathletes from across the country reached out to the family and offered to race in honor of Chase. Soon, non-athletes contacted the Kowalskis with the same offer:
“People that never ran before read the stories, and they thought ‘Wow, if a little boy could be a triathlete, I could get off the couch and start training,” says Rebecca. “From there it just grew and grew, and we realized that from Heaven, Chase was inspiring people to make a change in their lives.”
With the help of friends and family, the Race4Chase was born. “We knew we needed to do something to honor Chase and help heal our broken hearts,” said Rebecca. “With the help of friends and family, we decided to follow in the footsteps of Chase and he pushed us in the direction of running.”
In its first year, 95 children in 3 Connecticut locations participated in the Race4Chase Kids’ Tri Program, a six-week triathlon academy culminating in the “Finale Triathlon,” a USAT-sanctioned kids’ triathlon. Through Race4Chase donations, children are provided with bikes, helmets, swim caps, and goggles. In summer 2015, the program will expand to 11 sites nationwide.
“The Race4Chase initiative has brought so many people into our lives and helped with the healing process,” says Rebecca. “This program not only teaches kids how to swim, bike, and run, but it teaches them good sportsmanship and healthy eating. Most of all, we are keeping Chase’s spirit alive in them. At our kids’ race last year, you could see the essence of Chase come out in every one of those kids when they helped the last participant finish his last portion of the triathlon, never giving up but cheering him on and running along side him to keep him going. It was the most wonderful thing I think I have ever seen.”