It’s hard to imagine the unimaginable.
It’s pretty much impossible to imagine something amazing being born from an unimaginable tragedy.
Chase Kowalski was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
And from that unimaginable tragedy, the Race4Chase Tri Program was created.
Chase Kowalski loved the sport of triathlon.
After his death, his parents started The CMAK Foundation.
The CMAK Foundation is inspired by the life of Chase Kowalski and honors his memory through its works and activities to heal and strengthen children, families and communities. Join us to Triumph over Tragedy and make a positive impact in our world!
The Race4Chase Triathlon Program is a free, 6-week camp. What started out as a program at 4 local YMCA’s has grown into over 20 sites in four different states.
By focusing on emotional healing and physical health and wellness, we will positively change the lives of children and their families.
Our whole family has participated in this camp as either campers, coaches, or both.
2019 was the first summer Kasen, Gretchen and Marit were all triathletes.
This year all five kids were involved.
Kristofer was a coach, Ingrid was a volunteer coach, Gretchen was a CIT, and Kasen and Marit were campers.
Trying to describe the magnitude of this camp and culminating triathlon experience is equivalent to trying to explain the degree to which you love your kids to someone who isn’t a parent.
I can’t accurately describe it. You can’t comprehend until you are there on that final day.
It’s a legit triathlon.
There are hundreds of kids there, and hundreds of families.
Before the triathlon starts, everyone gathers at the ampitheater, and Chase’s mom gives a short speech.
As you can imagine, it’s extremely emotional.
It’s also extremely inspirational.
From here the kids head to the lake and the triathlon starts.
Every experience with Race4Chase has been awesome, but this summer in particular was different.
Because this summer all the kids did this together.
And since Kristofer’s had his license long enough to drive with his siblings in the car, I was pretty much removed from the whole entire experience except for the triathlon.
It’s something only the five of them share.
It bums me out a little to miss this day-to-day stuff, but I think it’s pretty cool they will all have this memory.
But it’s not just THAT!
With five kids who are relatively close in age, there’s plenty of bickering.
When you’re 17, you don’t usually spend a lot of time with your 12-year-old brother.
Or your 10-year-old sister.
Unless you are their coach.
Then you get to know your siblings a little differently.
And then you get to do something like this:
You get to guide your little sister to the bike transition area.
And you get to push your little brother across the finish line.
It’s a pretty incredible experience to be a triathlete at the event.
These kids push themselves harder physically and mentally than they ever have before.
They learn about resilience and mental toughness and mindset and perseverance and teamwork and so much through this camp.
But I think what people don’t realize is how much the coaches and CIT’s learn through being a part of Race4Chase.
I saw Kristofer discover strengts and talents and interests he never knew he had. He surprised his bosses.
The self esteem and confidence and life experience the coaches get from working at this camp is life changing.
You learn what it feels like to help people when you’re a Race4Chase coach.
And every coach from every different Race4Chase program is there for one reason.
To help kids have success and feel connected.
The coaches from our program are THE BEST.
Every kid on our team, from the most experienced to the least experienced had a coach with them just about every step of the way. For real.
They are the BEST.
The way the triathlon works, kids are divided into different waves and heats, so they all start and finish at separate times.
The coaches accompany every kid through every transition area.
They wait for them as they come out of the swim.
They run the course multiple times with different kids who might need a little support.
They help kids who aren’t feeling so steady on the bike.
They even tag team when necessary!
I could talk about R4C forever. It’s given my family so many gifts.
My kids have made lasting friendships and have pushed themselves harder than they ever have in the pool or any area of their lives.
It was pretty incredible to see them all together on race day today.
This camp goes so far beyond triathlons.
It gave five kids who have had a pretty rough 2 years do something together. They supported each other. They pushed each other.
I watched Kristofer learn what it takes to be a leader.
I saw him develop into a pretty good coach who has a gift for connecting with kids.
After the first day of camp Kristofer (who was basically in charge of running the swim practice portion of camp) said to me, “Mom, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
He was a little frustrated because it was more challenging than he thought it would be.
My first instinct was to swoop in.
I probably could have volunteered to come help out a couple days. I thought about it.
Ultimately I kept my nose out of it. I gave him a few suggestions to try the next day.
He listened and applied what I told him, and then he started figuring things out on his own.
And then I got to listen to Gretchen and Kristofer tell stories of breakthrough moments with kids in the pool for the rest of the summer.
It was amazing.
They learned so much. On their own without my help.
Race4Chase is helping my kids discover their talents and strengths, and it’s teaching them how to be leaders.
Race4Chase affects lives in ways you couldn’t even predict.
And it’s given my kids memories with each other that only the five of them will ever have.
The mission of the CMAK Foundation is this:
In remembrance of Chase Kowalski of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we will be a positive force to inspire community healing through family and children-focused initiatives and programs. By focusing on emotional healing and physical health and wellness, we will positively change the lives of children and their families.
To the CMAK Foundation, from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you.
You’ve given my family such a gift.