About six years ago, as she was sitting on the beach in August at Block Island, Theresa Roden of Springs saw runners passing by with numbers on their arms. What, she asked her companion, was going on.
Her friend said it was the Block Island Triathlon, and that was the first time Ms. Roden, who heads the very successful I-Tri program for adolescent girls at the Springs School, became aware of the swim-bike-run endurance contest.
“Absolutely I was not an athlete,” Ms. Roden said the other day. “I had ridden a bike and had swum when I was young, but I was never encouraged to do sports. Yet when I saw these triathletes running by, I said to my friend, ‘You know what, I’m going to do that next year.’ ”
And she did, with about 25 other mothers from here whom she encouraged to give triathloning a try. “We took the ferry over. We all competed, and we all finished. For me, crossing the finish line was a huge moment. It wasn’t just about finishing, it was about the journey to getting there. I felt transformed, from the inside out. I’d gone from being a couch potato to an athlete. It changed everything. . . . I thought that if I’d begun this at the age of 12 rather than at 35 what a different life I would have had.”
Her own experience thus encouraged her, she said, to try the same thing with her daughter Abby, who was entering her teens, and with other girls of Abby’s age, who were “getting into some bad habits.”
A former teacher who, with her husband, publishes boating and yachting magazines, Ms. Roden began a pilot I-Tri program at the Springs School last year, selecting, with the help of teachers and guidance counselors, 11 sixth through eighth-grade girls who did not think of themselves as athletes.
Last July, eight of them — Abby Roden, Hana Islami, Alexa Berti, Alana Ellis, Karla Gomez, Kirsten Clarke, Kattie Fragola, and Kimberly Grullon — finished a youth triathlon held at Maidstone Park that included a 300-yard bay swim, a 7-mile bicycle leg, and a 1.5-mile run.
I-Tri, whose pink T-shirts read “Transformation Through Triathlon” on the front and “Triathlete In Training” on the back, had succeeded “way beyond my expectations,” said Ms. Roden, whose group has recently received $37,000 in grants from four organizations — $10,000 from the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation, $10,000 from the Women’s Sports Foundation, $10,000 from Simple Works, and $7,000 from the Long Island Fund for Women and Girls — so that former volunteers can be paid and so that I-Tri can be expanded next March into the Montauk School.
The following year “we hope to get it into the high school,” Abby Roden said during a break in an I-Tri training session at Maidstone Park Saturday morning.
Ms. Roden has some high-powered athletic help in the persons of Sharon McCobb, whose idea the youth triathlon was, and who is I-Tri’s athletic coordinator; Annette MacNiven, who recently won a bronze medal in her age division in the International Triathlon Union’s world off-road championships in Extremadura, Spain, and in Amanda Husslein, a long-distance open water swimmer, who not long ago competed in a six-hour open water race around Florida’s keys.
The East Hampton Rotary Club and the Old Montauk Athletic Club, as well as those who have bought fund-raising raffle tickets have helped add to the group’s bicycle collection, which is housed in the landscaper Rich Kalbacher’s barn near the Maidstone Park course. “We plan to build up a fleet just for the program,” Ms. Roden said.
Ms. McCobb, who also has been training a group of 24 other youngsters, who plan to do the Montauk sprint triathlon on July 17 and the youth triathlon on July 24, agreed that for every one of the I-Tri girls the prospect of doing a triathlon was probably daunting, “but their camaraderie has been carrying them through and helping to build their self-confidence.”
Because she believes in “the power of visualization,” Ms. Roden has included once-a-week discussions intended to build self-esteem in I-Tri’s regimen. These goal-setting, positive affirmation, and visualization workshops were “just as important as the swimming, biking, and running,” Ms. Roden said.
“Visualization,” she said, “helps get you to the finish. We tell them to imagine when they’re in the last stretch that they’re Olympic athletes and everyone is cheering. . . . Of course, they can use visualization for anything in their lives.”
“The motivation for boys at this age is competition, but girls are looking for the social aspect,” Ms. Roden continued. “For them it’s not even the game, it’s the bus ride, the bonfire, the camaraderie. . . .”
The I-Tri girls, she said, were “not joiners, they’re sort of outsiders, but now they feel like a team. They love being together. They have that feeling of being a part of something that is so much bigger than themselves.”
When questioned at Saturday’s practice, Abby Roden, who is I-Tri’s vice president (Islami is the president, Ellis the secretary, and Berti the treasurer) said the group had brought students together who probably never would have become close. “Now, we’re all part of this crazy, dysfunctional family which is I-Tri,” Abby said with a smile.
Earlier this year, when the weather wasn’t good, the I-Tri girls took a spinning class at B-East, they took a Zumba class with Olivia Larsen, a fitness class with Rosie Orlando, a Yoga class with Steve Eaton, and a mixed martial arts class with Theresa Greene. They also swam in the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter’s pool.
The aforementioned eight alumnae had done a lot to bring this year’s 15 new members along, said Ms. Roden. “The girls who began this last year wanted to find someone like them — they wanted to say it doesn’t matter where you are, we’ll get you there. They wanted them to feel . . . what’s the word . . . empowered. So that when they reach the finish line this year they’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, I’m an athlete. But I’m also a triathlete.’ ”