‘Show Up, Show Them What You’re Made Of’

‘One step, stroke, pedal, and hug at a time’
As part of a Tag 10 fund-raising challenge, I-Tri middle schoolers were asked first on Saturday to write affirmations on “whatever you’ve got two of, hands, arms, legs, feet.” The affirmation of Sheila Huidobro, a Southampton sixth grader, can be seen above. Jack Graves

The sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade girls in Theresa Roden’s ever-growing I-Tri (“transformation through triathlon”) program, who packed the East Hampton Middle School’s auditorium for a Mentoring Day Saturday afternoon, were urged by the day’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Tisha Williams, to “show up and shoot your shot . . . show them what you’re made of.”

Ms. Williams, who has a long list of “firsts” to her credit — the latest being her recent appointment last year as the first female pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bridgehampton — urged moreover that the I-Tri girls be good to themselves and continue to embrace challenges in all areas of life.

Reading from a letter she’d written to her 21-year-old self, in which she said “everything I am now I owe to the decisions you made” — decisions that resulted in successful modeling, acting, and entrepreneurial careers before turning to the ministry — she added that “the best is yet to come — I’ve not traveled through time to berate you or to tell you where you fell short. At this age you’re far too capable of criticizing yourself. I have come to tell you that I am proud of you and to thank you.”

In that regard, Reverend Williams challenged the young attendees from middle schools ranging from the William Floyd to the Montauk School Districts to write letters to their younger selves, and to send them to her. She would return them, she said, in a year.

Further, she told the I-Tri girls to say to themselves before they wrote those letters, “‘I am strong, I am smart, I am beautiful, I am in love with myself.’ Don’t turn to negativity. Say ‘I am strong, I am smart, I am beautiful, I am in love with myself’ for 30 days and you’ll believe it.”

Tiffanie Wyche, an East Hampton High School senior and I-Tri alum who also spoke that afternoon, told her successors that I-Tri had taught her “how to love and appreciate myself, and to be a light in the world. In I-Tri we not only build our muscles so that we can run, bike, and swim, but we also build relationships with our coaches and the other girls, and learn to trust and to accept one another. We become a family! We face fear and overcome it one step, one stroke, one pedal, and one hug at a time.”

Because of a difficult family history while growing up, she had “had a hard time trusting people and letting anyone really get to know the real me. I also struggled with insecurity and never felt that I was good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough. That all changed when I joined I-Tri. . . .”

Tiffanie said, to loud applause, that she’d been “accepted into the Springs Fire Department in the fall, and I am presently training to be a firefighter and an E.M.T. I will be the youngest female firefighter/E.M.T. in Springs history.”

One of I-Tri’s 40 mentors that day, Lori King, who has a Catalina Channel crossing among her impressive long-distance swimming credits, said afterward in an email, “It was a mentoring day for the girls, but I think they, in turn, reminded us of the roles we the mentors should play in helping to shape the next generation of strong, caring, independent women.” 

“What Theresa has created in I-Tri is a hug. With open arms outstretched these girls say, ‘It’s okay — you can be you, we want to see you and we’ll help you.’ They’re providing that safe haven that every young girl needs to dim her insecurities so that her authentic self can shine through — so that, with the love and support of others, she can go on to achieve amazing things.”

Tiffanie Wyche, an I-Tri alum and East Hampton High School senior, recently became the youngest Springs Fire Department member in the hamlet’s history. Jack Graves