Thomas Brierley, a 17-year-old Atlantic Beach lifeguard who wants in the near future to become an elite triathlete, won Sunday’s I-Tri youth triathlon at Maidstone Park, edging his training partner and fellow lifeguard, Teague Costello, by five seconds. But the well-attended race, in which two dozen or so of the I-Tri self-empowerment program’s girls participated, was, as all agreed, about finishing.
The I-Tri girls, whose number in the Springs and Montauk Schools has swelled to more than 50, dedicated the event, which comprised a 300-yard bay swim, a 7-mile bike leg, and a mile-and-a-half run, to their late friend and Springs schoolmate Anna Lytton, who died June 13 when, while riding a bicycle, she was struck and dragged under a Ford Explorer for 20 feet as she and the car were turning left toward the post office and CVS drugstore’s entrance.
Friendship is the bedrock of Theresa Roden’s I-Tri (transformation through triathlon) program, whose aim is to empower adolescent girls, and, though obviously no one would have wished for it, a nasty accident in the bike leg, an accident that left one of the I-Tri girls, Sara Havens, bloodied and bruised, demonstrated how effective the program is.
Apparently, in trying to avoid a pothole on the right, Havens swerved into a pothole on the left, throwing her off her bike. Moments later, Tiffannie Wyche, an I-Tri teammate, appeared, and, refusing Havens’s urgings to carry on, stayed with her — as did Kevin Bunce Jr., another participant — until ambulance personnel had arrived and had bandaged her wounds. Havens, who was limping, and Wyche finished the race hand-in-hand as everyone applauded.
Roden said later that “we all know there will be times when we fall (literally and figuratively), and the best we can hope for is that when it happens we will have a friend come along who refuses to leave our side until we are ready to get up again. Tiffannie and Sara lived that today. . . . As I’ve said from day one, this program is about more than a race.”
Asked Monday if Havens were all right, Roden said, “We had a celebration yesterday at the Indian Wells Beach and she swam in the ocean with everyone else. She’s much better. Anna Lytton’s death has been very much on the girls’ minds, and so I think that and the arrival of the ambulance may have made things even more scary for her. As soon as her mother came, she felt better.”
Brierley and Costello are to compete in the Montauk Sprint triathlon this Sunday, as is I-Tri’s female winner, Paige Duca of Rockville Centre and Montauk, a lifeguard at Gin Beach who placed eighth in the state steeplechase this spring.
Duca trains with Katrina Garry, a former winner and runner-up who, said Roden, in April volunteered to help Sharon McCobb, Amanda Husslein, Diane O’Donnell, and Annette MacNiven coach the I-Tri girls.
Garry, who’s to be a senior at Friends Academy in the fall, and whose family summers in Montauk, said in the transition area that she was “excited to be on the other side of this race. It’s definitely not about winning. The last two years, after I’d finished, I went out onto the course to help the others finish. I-Tri is an amazing program. It really changes their lives. They gain so much confidence, 100 percent more, and they form really good friendships, which is very important. I hope to come back every year and help.”
As to where she might go to college — her older sister, Kira, is at Yale, where she’s running cross-country and track — Garry said, “I have no idea . . . hopefully a college where I can run.” Her 4-by-8 relay team was fifth in the state this year.
Stacey Scarpone, the executive director of the Women’s Fund of Long Island, one of I-Tri’s supporters, was among the many spectators. “It’s so impressive how much this organization has grown,” she said. “It’s pretty inspirational. We continue to support I-Tri [through a $6,000 grant this year] and obviously we think it’s money well spent.”
Another spectator, Maureen Rutkowski, took the opportunity to mention the coming Montauk Ocean Swim Challenge, a July 27 fund-raiser based at Kirk Park Beach benefiting the Montauk Playhouse Community Center’s aquatics center.
“We’re making headway,” she said in answer to a question. “Imagine if we had a pool how much more we could do for a program like this.”
Sydney Salamy, a Springs sixth grader who was among those making their youth triathlon debuts, said she liked I-Tri’s spirit. The swim, she said, was “okay, especially when we got toward the end. There was a sandbar and everybody was touching it with their hands. The bike was easier, and the run was okay, though your legs wobble after you get off the bike and start running. I’m going to do it next year and the year after.”
Salamy’s mother, Patricia, who placed second in the Turbo-Tri contested over the same course last month, said she’s been talking to everybody about I-Tri. “It’s a great thing for young girls.”
Lauren German, whose older sister, Morgan, is on the high school’s girls swim team, said, when asked, that she thought I-Tri was “really great. It helps you gain confidence, to feel better about yourself. We help each other to keep going. The swim was very easy for me, the bike was okay, a little bit challenging, and the run. . . . Well, I was happy to finish.”
“Sara’s an amazing person,” said Abby Roden after Sara Havens and Tiffannie Wyche had crossed the line. “She’s very determined. Despite wiping out on the bike, she was determined to cross the finish line. She knew we’d be there cheering her on. And Tiffannie’s staying with her and finishing with her shows how we all are together. Sara not only did enough, she did more than enough.”
Among the age-group winners were Isabella Tarbet and Evan Boccia, 10-and-under; Julia Brierley and Ryan Bahel, 11-to-12, and Isabella Swanson and T.J. Calabrese, 13-14.