A Triumphant Day for Young Triathletes

Ashley Farez, a member of i-tri, walks under a bridge created by teammates as she ran over the finish line last year. Photo by Lori Hawkins

Triumph ruled the day at the annual Hampton’s Youth Triathlon on Saturday morning, as racers arrived at Long Beach in Sag Harbor to sunny and cool conditions and significant excitement in the air. The beach was lined with chairs of nervous parents and friends holding posters with words of encouragement.

Children ages 10 to 17 embarked in the youth-distance triathlon to benefit i-tri, a local non-profit that helps middle school girls gain confidence and conquer body image issues while achieving fitness goals through triathlon and mental health training. Shorter than a traditional triathlon, participants started with a 300-yard open water swim, which led to a 7-mile bike ride and, lastly, a 1.5-mile run.

Tyler Pawlowski, of Freeport, was the overall winner with a time of 30:15.35. It was his third time winning the youth triathlon and he managed to beat his time from last year by more than five minutes. The 15-year-old attends Long Island Lutheran, where he recently completed his sophomore year.

Tyler Pawlowski, 15, finished first in the triathlon. Photo by Lori Hawkins.

As a member of the Long Island Aquatic Club, Pawlowski hopes to continue improving his skills in all-around freestyle. “Swimming is my main goal,” he said shortly after finishing the race on Saturday. “I hope to make the national team one day.”

Caelan Clayton, of Huntington, placed second overall and first in the female category with a time of 37:26.54.

Complete results are available online at elitefeats.com.

The word “proud” was heard frequently as parents, friends, coaches and volunteers were asked how they were feeling on race day.

“You know, for some of these girls this is a really hard thing for them to do,” said running coach Diane O’Donnell of East Hampton, who has been with i-tri for six years.  “This year we had a huge group of non-swimmers and going from not knowing to jumping into an open-water swim with 100 plus other kids is amazing.”

When thinking about the accomplishments her girls were able to achieve, O’Donnell began to cry.

“It’s so heartwarming to see how proud they are of themselves,” she said. “There were times when they didn’t have faith that they could complete this, even this morning. I was so proud watching them cross that finish line.”

The first i-tri participant to finish was 13-year-old Leslie Samuel from Springs.

Leslie Samuel, 13, competes in the triathlon. Photo by Lori Hawkins.

This was Samuel’s first year with i-tri, and following her win on Saturday, she stood right behind the finish line to cheer on and congratulate her friends as they completed the course.

“Training was very hectic in the beginning, but you learn to love it,” Samuel said. “I have an amazing support system here and I’ve been able to make so many new friends.”

Past i-tri participants often become coaches with the organization, passing on what they learned to the younger girls. This year, Pierson High School student Abigail Hallock did just that. “It took a lot to get me to do i-tri at first,” she said, adding thanks to her coaches for their support and for giving her confidence and appreciation for her body.

Before joining i-tri three years ago, East Hampton’s Juliana Lester didn’t know how to ride a bike. “It gave me a sense of pride, knowing that I could do it,” she said. “Everyone in i-tri is here for you and I hope to be a coach next year. I want to give lessons to the younger girls and watch them grow.”

i-tri participants in a team huddle prior to the start of the race. Photo by Lori Hawkins.

“It gives them a really strong skill set to succeed,” said Kelly Roesel, an i-tri swim coach. “They understand that this was something they had to work for. They had to train their body and mind to achieve this. Anything they learn here can be applied in any facet of their lives.”

Founder Theresa Roden hopes to see i-tri grow in the future from the eight schools on the East End that they work with currently. “I hope to see i-tri expand, not only on Long Island, but we are now planning our next big leap; brining i-tri to a national and, eventually, international level.”

Leslie Samuel, 13, cheers on her i-tri teammates. Photo by Lori Hawkins.
i-tri members prior to the race. Photo by Lori Hawkins.