Friends of Aine Phillips went the distance Sunday morning to help support children coping with the loss of a loved one.
“It helps to do something, and we’re doing something really positive for the kids,” said Annmarie Smith, Aine’s aunt.
Aine was just 8 years old when pulmonary veno occlusive disease took her life in 2010. Her sister, Bella, was 5 years old at the time. Watching Bella cope with her grief left David and Christine Phillips wondering if more could be done. Bereavement programs exist for children, David Phillips said, but he envisioned a permanent place where children struggling with the loss of a sibling or loved one could comfortably share their feelings with other children having the same experience.
The family founded the Friends of Aine Foundation and organized the Kids Try-athlon.
Proceeds are being used to help Home Health & Hospice Care expand its bereavement support services by establishing a permanent center for grieving children.
“It was just time to do something for Bella,” Christine Phillips said. “In helping her, we can help other kids, which is just such a bonus for us.”
More than 80 volunteers and close to 200 participants showed up for an event filled with people and energy that Aine would have loved, Christine said. Bella, now 8, entered the Try-athalon. Being with the kids carried her through an emotionally difficult day, Christine said. Friends stopped throughout the event to offer assistance and hugs.
“They supported us when Aine died and they still are,” Christine said. “We are indebted to them for their love and support.”
The Try-athalon started at the town pool with a 25-yard swim for ages up to 10 and a 50-yard swim for 11- to 14-year-olds. Music played over the loudspeaker as children swam, pedaled and ran their way to victory. Supporters held signs and cheered as the children left the pool and ran to the high school. At the end of the route – roughly a mile for 11- to 14-year-olds and a quarter mile for the younger competitors – the athletes mounted their bikes for the final leg – two laps around the school for the younger age group and four laps for older participants, before sprinting over the finish line. Some chose jumping rope, one of Aine’s favorite activities, over the other events.
“It was probably the most athletic things I’ve done for a long time, and I loved it,” said Owen Bechert, 10.
Bechert loves swimming and bicycling but just started running. He’s glad he decided to join his friends in the competition and would definitely do it next year, he said.
Alex Zwickau came in first for the boys 10-and-under division with a time of 9:13. Connor Collins topped the boys 11 to 14 category, coming in at 17:40. Carly Rinko had the best time for girls 10 and under at 7:55. First place for girls 11 to 14 went to Lindsey Wagner with a time of 17:49.
The funds will be used by Home, Health, & Hospice Care to designate a section of their administrative building on Executive Park Drive in Merrimack as a center for grieving children in Aine’s name, according to Tina Andrade, director of development. She predicted the center would be open within a year.