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Kelsey said he nervous before the family arrived at the airport Friday for the weekend visit, but was quickly put at ease by Kowalski’s easy going nature and playful personalities. Then again, it’s been that way since the relationship began.

“From the first time they reached out to me, it was life changing,” Kelsey said.

Before the game, the Kowalskis toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, about 20 minutes north of Winthrop’s campus. They also visited an area YMCA where they hope to help start a youth triathlon program, something Chase did in Connecticut.

Area YMCA head Frank “Moe” Ball took the Kowalskis on a tour of their facilities. Ball runs 10 YMCAs in five area communities. He said people in the region were behind Kelsey’s sentiment of leaders from all walks of life stepping up to prevent such tragedies.

“The priorities need to change and this country needs to do something to make this situation better,” he said.

Ball said the Kowalskis have enjoyed their visit so far, although he acknowledged people walk a fine line at not wanting to bring up tragic memories for the family. “I was struggling myself whether to mention (Chase’s) name or not,” Ball said. “In some ways, they’re still grieving. But they want something good to come out of this.”