WESTERLY — Ten-year-old Thaddeus Yates has participated in so many triathlons that he has lost track of the exact number.
"I think this will be 12," Thaddeus said Wednesday while training for his next race with a group of friends.
The group, 14 strong, are participating in the Race4Chase Kid's Triathlon program run by the Ocean Community YMCA. The Rhode Island race is scheduled for Sunday at Fort Adams State Park in Newport. The program will also sponsor races in Connecticut, South Carolina, and 27 other locations. It is named after a boy who was shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On Wednesday team members practiced their transition from swimming to bicycles, efficient pedaling, and the best way to get off the bicycle while maintaining progress in the race. They were under the watch of their coach, Terry Hiltz, and Jordan Murphy, the Y's health and wellness director, during a practice at the Washington Trust Community Skating Center. The Y manages the center during the winter and has access to the property during non-skating seasons.
"9 to 3. Remember 9 to 3," Hiltz yelled, reminding the team members of a pedaling technique aimed at conserving a racer's energy.
"The goal in triathlons, because you have to do so much work, is to be as efficient as possible. If you're no,t you'll be completely exhausted," Hiltz said.
Chase Kowalski died at the age of 7 on Dec. 14, 2012, in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Chase began running competitively at the age of 2 and asked to sign up for his first triathlon at 6 years old. The Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Foundation provides bicycles and other equipment to the various programs.
For six weeks the program meets Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. In addition to physical exercise practice, program participants, who range in age from 6 to 12, learn how to repair their bicycles, a skill they will need on race day.
The program also covers lessons on nutrition, fitness and sleep. Hiltz brought in two speakers. Marie Labriola, of Westerly, who has competed in national and international triathlons, talked to the team about visualization and the mental aspect of competition. Ted Spencer, coach of the Westerly High School boys lacrosse team, talked about "facing your fears and going after it," Hiltz said.
Thaddeus, in his second year in the Race4Chase program, said he was drawn to the opportunity to train and compete in a group. "I thought it would be pretty cool doing triathlons with friends on a team. It's good to have a team that you can cheer on," he said.
After reminding some of her charges to have a sense of "urgency" in their approach to practice, Hiltz said triathlons tend to even the playing field because participants are often strong in one or two sports but weak in a third. "You can see the younger ones can really compete in one event. They have it as a mission to do well. Everybody has something they have to work on so it really brings them together as a team even though it's an individual sport," she said.
The team progressed over the six weeks they worked with Hiltz.
"The first week I saw some fear of things but I've watched them break through that fear," Hiltz said.
Evan Morrissette, 9, of Westerly is in his second year of the program, which the Y began in 2018. He said he was focused on the bicycle leg of the race. "I'm shifting better than last year," he said.
Murphy said the program is packed with valuable lessons.
"It gives them an awareness of what it takes to compete in an event like this this," Murphy said.
This year the Westerly program is all boys. Last year three girls participated, Murphy said.
Participating in the Race4Chase program struck a chord with Thaddeus. "It's cool because you get to a triathlon and remember a little kid who loved triathlons. I really like to remember how much he loved triathlons and hopefully brighten his family and help them to be happy," Thaddeus said.