Diane O’Donnell, who coaches East Hampton High School’s girls cross-country team, said during recent physical evaluations of Springs’s I-Tri girls at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter that she thought they were “ready to take the next step . . . you can see a difference in these girls, they have more of a spark.”
Theresa Roden, who founded the I-Tri (Transformation Through Triathlon) program at the Springs School about three years ago as a means to empower the minds and bodies of early-adolescent girls who did not see themselves as athletes, and who were in danger of “making some bad choices,” agreed.
“We now have 30 girls from Springs, including 14 alumnae who act as mentors for the younger ones, and we’ve added 15 girls from the Montauk School,” she said during a recent conversation. “We’ve doubled our numbers in one year, and have quadrupled them since I-Tri began.”
On I-Tri’s new Web site, itrigirls.org, Roden, a former teacher who now publishes Captain’s Guide yachting and boating destination magazines with her husband, Rob, said that, until discovering triathloning herself some seven years ago, she had largely also been on the sidelines as it were, very much like the girls she has been mentoring with the help of Sharon McCobb, Annette MacNiven, and Amanda Husslein, among others. They mix swimming, cycling, and running workouts with weekly self-esteem-building workshops.
Roden’s charges, who each year train for and participate in a popular Youth Triathlon that McCobb oversees at Maidstone Park in the summer, now see themselves as athletes, as triathletes, in fact. (Three of I-Tri’s alums, Abby Roden, the founder’s daughter, Alexa Berti, and Alana Ellis intend to do the Montauk Sprint triathlon as a team this summer.)
“For most who start off with us in the sixth grade, running is their least favorite thing,” Roden said when the cross-country coach’s comments were mentioned. “Though now we’ve got some strong runners who are about to enter the high school.”
Presumably, O’Donnell, who, like Roden, did not participate in sports when she was in high school, and who did not start running until the age of 27, will be among those to reap the benefits of I-Tri’s transformative efforts.
I-Tri’s success has been furthered by financial contributions from such organizations as the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Simple Works, the Long Island Fund for Women and Girls, the Old Montauk Athletic Club, and the East Hampton Rotary Club. “Adolescent girls go through a tough time when they are unsure of who they are, or of how they fit in,” Roden said. “I-Tri gives them a common ground, something they can be a part of that is bigger than themselves. It’s about empowerment.”
Things are to get going in earnest for the 45 I-Tri girls of Springs and Montauk this week. The Montaukers are to get medical evaluations at Southampton Hospital today, there is to be a retreat for I-Triers and their mothers — who have pushed for this — at the East Hampton Day Care Center Saturday, and a spin class at B-East in Amagansett next Thursday. “It’s the third year Romaine Gordon has done this for us,” said Roden.
For the rest of the school year, the girls will be given classes in various athletic disciplines every Thursday afternoon, they’ll swim at the Y’s pool on Saturday afternoons, coached by MacNiven and Husslein, and Gurney’s Inn volunteers are to give the Montauk girls fitness classes on Tuesday afternoons. In addition, self-esteem-building workshops will be held at each of the schools one day a week during a lunch-recess period. “Our big fund-raising event is to be a Celebrity Turbo Tri on June 16 on the Maidstone Park [300-yard bay swim, 7-mile bike, and 1.5-mile run] course,” said Roden. “A couple of professional triathletes have agreed to do it and we’re working on getting celebrities. We also want to get 100 percent participation from the staffs at the Springs and Montauk Schools — either as participants or as contributors to the participants’ $100 entry fees. It looks as if it should happen.”
The Youth Triathlon is to be held at Maidstone Park on July 22.
Roden added that the I-Tri girls who are to enter East Hampton High School in the fall have been working — along with McCobb’s daughter, Lena Vergnes, a junior racewalker — with the high school’s principal Adam Fine to have I-Tri included among the school’s clubs next year.
Abby Roden said during the recent fitness testing at the Y that they wouldn’t stop there. “We want to make it worldwide,” she said, with a broad smile.