“I changed in so many ways and know the people around me are proud!”
On July 13, 2019 close to 200 girls wearing matching uniforms will gather along with kids from far and wide to compete in the BNB Hamptons Youth Triathlon. The race, which is open to all kids 10-17, consists of a 300-yard open water swim, a seven mile bike, and 1.5 mile run at the picturesque Long Beach in Sag Harbor, NY.
For i-tri girls, this date marks the finish line of a journey that began in February when they were invited to participate in i-tri, an empowerment program for middle school girls. Many did not know how to swim or to ride a bike. Most would admit that they worried they would never be able to do a triathlon. But come race day all of those doubts will be washed away as they face their fears—push through—and run triumphantly across the finish line into the arms of their astonished family and friends.
Theresa Roden was inspired to start i-tri because of her own transformation through a triathlon competition. “In my thirties, after a lifetime of not being athletic at all, I decided to do a triathlon. I told a few of my friends who were also young moms at the time, and together we trained for the Block Island Triathlon. Crossing the finish line was an amazing accomplishment, but looking back, I realized that it was really the journey to get there that had changed me. It was the most transformative experience of my life—mentally, physically and emotionally. I knew that in order to be successful, I needed to change the way I spoke to myself. I could no longer repeat the old tapes “I can’t do that, I’m too slow, I’m too fat, I’m not good enough…” Instead, for the first time in my life, I was KIND to myself. “I CAN do it! I am good enough! I am faster today than I was yesterday!” A few years and many races later Theresa’s daughter was poised to enter middle school. “I looked at my daughter Abby, remembering how hard those middle school years can be, and thought ‘if I had learned all of this at her age—what a different experience I would have had!’”
Ten years ago, at the Springs Middle School in East Hampton, Abby and seven other girls became the first i-tri group. Eric Casale, principal of the school, remembers that year. “Theresa was empowering girls and young women to do things they never thought possible. i-tri gave them a voice. They became a family. Now they have a lifelong bond. There is nothing they can’t overcome.”
Nicole, an i-tri girl from East Hampton Middle School echoes his words. “Before I wouldn’t have the courage to speak out, but now I do! I love my body, and I feel comfortable in it; which i-tri influenced. I now am optimistic and look for ways to be a leader, but also know the importance of being a team member. I changed in so many ways, and I know the people around me are proud.”
Theresa recalled Kaya whose house had burnt down, forcing their family to move to Springs to start over. “Although she came into i-tri shy and aloof, within six months she blossomed.” A lesson on gratitude was one she took to heart. “If there hadn’t been a fire,” Kaya said, “I wouldn’t be here in Springs. I would not have been invited to participate in i-tri, and I would have never met the girls who are now like sisters to me.”The payoff was huge—pride, accomplishment, and a sense of belonging. Not only did she complete the triathlon, she came back as a mentor and raced again in 8th grade, and served as an assistant coach during high school. Kaya is now in college studying to be a social worker.
“Their determination to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone is so inspiring,” Natalie Sisco, an i-tri program leader said.” I know that they’ll use what they’ve learned in i-tri to go on and do great things in their future.”
Tiffanie Wyche, a senior at East Hampton High School, thanked i-tri in April. Taking the lectern at Mentoring Day, an i-tri career day for the girls, she said, “I struggled with insecurity and never felt that I was good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough. That all changed when I joined i-tri.” Tiffanie plans to attend Suffolk County Community College in the fall as she continues her training as the youngest female firefighter with the Springs Fire Department.
“They come to see that being active and a part of a group of like-minded people can make all of the difference,” Theresa said. “i-tri is about feeling good, when you feel good, you do good—you operate in a different way. There’s an energy of being more at peace.”
i-tri continues to receive support from the community. Although the actual cost is $2500 per student, all expenses are picked up by the non-profit: uniforms, caps, bathing suits, sports bras, bike helmets—everything. Funding comes from individuals, and organizations including Kathleen King of Tate’s, East End Tick, and the Women’s Sports Foundation. For the last several years, Hampton Jitney has been donating buses and drivers to transport the girls to train on the Long Beach course. This year nearly 200 girls are participating from ten schools: East Hampton, Montauk, Pierson, Bridgehampton, Southampton, Tuckahoe, Springs, William Floyd, William PACA and Riverhead.
And because of a recent donation, the organization is looking into ways to expand the program beyond Long Island, with an eye to expanding nationally.
(For information on i-tri, see itrigirls.org)
Written by Elizabeth Laytin, author of Come Here, Go Away, a YA novel available at Guild Hall, East Hampton.