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YMCA of LI hosts biathlon for kids who beat cancer

In the right foreground, Jordan Thomas, 9, and

In the right foreground, Jordan Thomas, 9, and Layla Warsaw, 7, both cancer survivors, will be training this winter in a new program to help children who have overcome the disease rebuild their strength. Their siblings, left, will also be participating. They are Layla's sisters Camryn, 6, and Jillian, 7 and Jordan's sister Juliana, 5. (Dec. 23, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The YMCA of Long Island will host its first-ever youth biathlon for children who beat cancer and for youth athletes ages 7 to 12 who are supporting cancer survivors, officials with the organization have announced.

Training will begin at the Great South Bay YMCA in Bay Shore next month for the program, Strength Through Strokes and Strides, and is being offered in partnership with Medals 4 Mettle. That Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization provides an opportunity for athletes and runners to pay it forward by awarding earned medals to others who demonstrate similar mettle, or courage, as they face life's challenges, according to the organization.

"It's truly touching to see the tremendous strength and dedication so many of these children have," said Connie McDonaugh, health and wellness director of the Great South Bay YMCA.

The program includes children recovering from chemotherapy who will compete in swimming and running, helping them build muscle, confidence and a sense of normalcy. On top of rebuilding their physical strength and preparing for the race, participants will be supporting others currently undergoing treatment. About 20 to 22 children have signed up, McDonaugh said.

The training program lasts 16 weeks -- from Jan. 25 to April 16. After the race on April 25, participants will give their medals to other children currently undergoing treatment. These medals are intended to provide hope and courage, showing them that they, too, have the bravery to fight, become cancer-free and rebuild the strength necessary to endure a biathlon themselves, organizers said.

Those who are 6-8 years old will compete in a 100-yard swim and a 3/4-mile run, and those who are 9-12 years old will compete in a 200-yard swim and a 1-mile run.

Parent Danielle Warsaw, of Mastic, has three children who are participating in the biathlon. Her daughter, Layla, 7, is a cancer survivor who had been diagnosed at age 5 with Wilms' tumor, a childhood kidney cancer. Layla will compete, along with her twin, Jillian, and her younger sister, Camryn, 6. All three are elementary school students at South Street School in Manorville.

The siblings had received medals from the Medals 4 Mettle organization while Layla was fighting cancer, and participating in this event is a "perfect way for my children to give back," Danielle Warsaw said.

"They're excited to do it," she said. "It is an excellent opportunity for the children who have finished treatment to give back and inspire fellow patients."