Crossing the finish line of the annual Block Island triathlon when her daughter was a young child, Springs resident Theresa Roden felt an overwhelming sense of pride—she had set a goal for herself and, within one short year, she had achieved it.
But as time passed, and as her daughter entered adolescence, Ms. Roden felt something was missing from her accomplishment. Looking at her teenage daughter, Abby, now 15, she knew what it was.
Training and completing the triathlon, Ms. Roden, 43, said, she grew as a person and became a stronger woman through the support and motivation of her family and friends. She knew that she would have been a completely different person if that transformation had started when she was younger. So she came up with an idea to start a triathlon training program geared for young girls.
Now, three years later, the i-Tri program is a locally and nationally recognized nonprofit organization that is expanding to include its third school district. Starting in January, students from the Southampton Intermediate School will join Montauk and Springs sixth- through eighth-graders in training for the Southampton girls’ first youth triathlon.
“I kept thinking that, as great as the finish line was, it was the journey getting there that was so amazing,” Ms. Roden said. “When my daughter was going into sixth grade, I saw that she was falling into my old patterns—she didn’t like exercise or group sports. I knew that the training would be good for her, not only because of the fitness but for the social, emotional and self-esteem aspects, which I find to be more important.”
In the third year of the program, Ms. Roden said the organization, with the help of guidance counselors from each of the districts, will select approximately 20 girls from each of the three schools. The program focuses on at-risk girls, those with low self-esteem, little motivation, or weight issues, and helps them to develop self-respect, empowerment, a positive body image, physical fitness, nutrition goals and self-affirmation.
The first step in the program, Ms. Roden explained, is that after being approached by the school, the girls must make the commitment to try, all on their own. That way, the girls feel more empowered and have more motivation to complete the course.
“It is better for the girls to make this type of decision first—then we involve their families,” Ms. Roden said. “The girls have to want to do it for their own reasons. It isn’t going to work if they are doing it because their parents are making them.”
To reach their goals, the girls are given more than 250 hours of personalized instruction at local fitness businesses, the YMCA East Hampton RECenter and in nutrition classes at their schools. Sometimes, girls will participate in spin classes, take yoga or learn swimming techniques. To date, each of the businesses has donated time and services to the program. Starting in January, the girls meet once at their respective schools during recess or lunch during the school week, and every Saturday.
The course, which lasts through July, culminates with a junior triathlon, also created by Ms. Roden. The event, which takes place at Maidstone Park in Springs, will have the girls swim 300 yards, bike 7 miles, and run 1.5 miles to the finish line.
Earlier this month, Board of Education members at Southampton said they are excited for the program to come to their district, noting that it will be good for the girls and will not cost the district any money.
“I think this sounds like a fantastic program,” Southampton School Board President Heather McCallion said. “I would like to congratulate you on bringing it to the district,” she told Ms. Roden.
The program will be paid for through fundraising efforts. All the girls will be encouraged to participate in the fundraising, with Ms. Roden estimating that approximately $100,000 will have to be raised this year to cover uniforms and other expenses for all of the girls. This year, for the first time, the organization is partnering with the Southampton Youth Bureau, which will be proving a counselor, Karen Matz, to help run the program in Southampton.
“i-Tri has given me opportunities not only to succeed as a triathlete,” Abby Roden wrote in an e-mail this week, “but as an alumni of the program, I have developed leadership skills and a great sense of self-worth that is helping me to pursue and achieve my goals.”
Moving forward, Theresa Roden said she hopes to be able to continue expanding the project, eventually having schools all over Long Island participate.
“This is an intense program,” she said. “We are teaching these girls that they are in this together with each other and whoever is running it. We keep it small so we are able to give all the girls individual attention and foster a sense of family.”