Innovative Program Encourages Empowerment
“There’s nothing you can’t do on a road bike.”
That’s how Abby Roden, 14 (photo below), a participant in an innovative triathlon program for adolescent girls based at Springs Middle School in East Hampton, NY, describes her love of cycling.
I first learned of I-Tri and its motto, “transformation through wellness,” when I came upon a group of Abby’s teammates setting off on a training ride with their coaches. A few weeks later, I watched 15 first-time I-Tri triathletes and 8 mentors race in the second annual Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon. What an inspiring experience! I-Tri is a great example of an effort to help empower young women, at least in part, by getting them involved in cycling.
Led by Abby’s mother, Theresa Roden, the group’s founder and executive director, I-Tri helps adolescent girls develop self-confidence and a sense mastery through triathlon.
Theresa, a former teacher who now works with her husband in publishing, says students are invited to join I-Tri based on recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors and on a survey created by the Women’s Sports Foundation to help identify girls who could benefit from participation.
“We’re looking for girls who don’t identify themselves as athletes, and who also have some self-esteem or emotional issues in their backgrounds,” Theresa says.
Building Camaraderie and Self-Confidence
I-Tri focuses less on finish times than on building self-esteem and camaraderie. Abby, in a gesture of solidarity reflective of the program’s heart, ran across the finish line clasping the hand of her teammate Camila Tucci.
She says she was happy to have improved her running time over last year. But Abby still considers bicycling her favorite triathlon discipline, and even named her LeMond Tourmalet road bicycle Blue Lightening. “I like the speed,” she says. “It’s just you and the bike, and the wind in your hair.”
In Blue Lightening, there’s also an important legacy. Abby’s mother road the bicycle in her own first triathlon in 2006, an experience that paved the way for founding I-Tri.
“I felt transformed, from the inside out,” Theresa Roden told the East Hampton Star of competing in the Block Island Triathlon. “I’d gone from being a couch potato to an athlete. It changed everything…I thought that if I’d begun at the age of 12 rather than 35 what a different life I would have had.”
‘It Felt Good To Cross the Finish Line’
I-Tri team members receive not only fitness training, but also instruction in nutrition, wellness and self-affirmation skills from a dedicated group of teachers, coaches and local fitness professionals. The journey that began on March 15 culminated on July 24 when the young women were among 53 racers who entered Gardiners Bay to swim 300-yards, and then rode 7 miles and ran 1.5 miles.
“It felt good to cross the finish line,” said first-time I-Tri participant Paige Ruccano, who also puts cycling at the top of her list. “I’m really good at it, and I’m fast,” the tall, quiet young woman said as her proud parents snapped photos of her with teammates.
Nearby, another new triathlete, Katherine Gordillo, 13, was surrounded by family members after she crossed the finish line. “I was nervous at first, but now I’m happy I did it,” she said, noting that I-Tri enabled her to meet new friends.
Although swimming is her favorite discipline, Katherine says she pushed herself to run and bike: “I told myself, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’ ”
Theresa Roden says the program will expand to Montauk Middle School in 2012, and that there are discussions about launching i-Tri at other local middle schools. But she says individual attention to each participant is the priority, so she plans to follow a conservative approach to building.
The not-for-profit program relies on contributions, and has recently attracted funding from a variety of sources, including grants of $10,000 each from the Women’s Sports Foundation, Simple Works Foundation in East Hampton and the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation, and a $7,000 grant from the Long Island Fund for Women & Girls.
Earlier in the race, as the I-Tri triathletes entered the transition area to rack their bikes in preparation for the running segment, a coach’s encouraging words could be heard.
“Get that helmet off! You go girl! You’re racing!” And they did.
To learn more about i-Tri, visit the group’s website.
Photos: Top by Theresa Roden, all others by velojoy
Top photo: Kattie Fragola, an I-Tri team member, rides the race course of the Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon.