i-Tri Girls Find Self-Empowerment Through Triathlons

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Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.
Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Theresa Roden’s motivation to run a triathlon came from a somewhat surprising source of inspiration: sitting on the beach. While visiting Block Island, Ms. Roden, who lives in Springs, saw a group of jubilant runners dart by, turned to her family and said, quite simply, “I’m going to do this next year.”

“They all looked at me like I had 25 heads,” said Ms. Roden, who not only ran, swam and biked across Block Island the following year, but also encouraged a group of some 20 East Enders to do the same. In 2010, she founded i-tri, a six-month program that uses training for a triathlon to teach local girls about health and nutrition, self-empowerment, and camaraderie.

“For me, it was the first time in my entire life that I cut myself some slack,” Ms. Roden said of her training. “I changed that inner dialogue. We all have that negative self-talk that we do to ourselves and I, for the first time, discovered I didn’t have to be so critical and if I was just a little kinder to myself, things were a lot easier. I just totally changed the way that I felt about myself and I talked about myself and to myself—and everything started to change.”

(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis  finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.
(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

Lamenting that she hadn’t changed her self-talk 20 years earlier, when her daughter Abby entered the sixth grade, Ms. Roden created i-tri for Abby and seven other girls in her class at Springs School. I-tri expanded to the Montauk School in 2012 and to Southampton last year, and on Monday, January 26, the Sag Harbor Board of Education will vote on whether to adopt the program at Pierson Middle School.

Offered free of charge to every participant, i-tri consists of triathlon-specific training of swimming, biking or running on Saturdays, weekly group lessons focused on self-esteem building and leadership skills, after-school fitness classes such as yoga and spinning, and hands-on nutrition classes, which families are welcome to attend.

The school district is asked to provide a space for i-tri to hold the in-school sessions and possibly the nighttime nutrition sessions, for support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly also for transportation to certain meetings. Training and classes start in March, culminating with the race in mid-July.

While training is limited to sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls, i-tri graduates often remain involved through mentorship. The eight girls who took part the first year are now juniors at East Hampton High School, and several of them started an i-tri-inspired empowerment club that meets periodically and invites successful, local women to come speak to students.

Although crossing the finish line is the most tangible reward, i-tri is at its core about empowering the girls in all aspects of their lives.

“It’s not all about training for the race,” said Maria Chavez, a freshman at East Hampton High School who started the program as a sixth grader in Springs and plans to race again this year, adding that i-tri encouraged the girls and “made us feel confident about ourselves…and we weren’t afraid to tell each other anything; we had so much support.”

“It’s all about feeling good,” said Ms. Roden. “There’s nothing more important than that I feel good, because when I feel good I have more to give the world and when I give to the world, I get back.”

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