Close to 70 girls biked, swam and ran their way through the Hamptons Youth Triathlon in Sag Harbor last week as members of I-tri, an empowerment program for middle school girls in which the triathlon is a metaphor for life: Showing girls they can do it teaches them they can accomplish any goal, say the organizer and the participants.
The girls in the free program are chosen by guidance counselors or social workers in the four participating school districts — Montauk, Sag Harbor, Southampton and Springs — because “they could benefit from being part of something special,” says I-tri executive director Theresa Roden, 48, of Springs.
“It really helped me,” says Kimberly Bermeo, 12 of East Hampton, who struggled through months of sixth grade this year without her mother, who was in Ecuador for surgery and recovery. “When I needed a shoulder to cry on, they were there.”
I-tri is in its seventh year, and in 2017 is adding the East Hampton and William Floyd school districts. “We started with eight girls at one school,” Roden says. “Those girls graduated high school this year. Every single one of them is going on to further education, whether at Suffolk Community College or a four-year school.”
Some of the girls didn’t know how to ride a bicycle when they started, and some didn’t know how to swim, Roden says. Most hated running, she jokes. From February to July, the girls attended sessions on self-esteem and trained in preparation for the July 14 event at Long Beach in Sag Harbor, formally known as Foster Memorial Beach. Their triathlon entailed a 300-yard open-water swim, seven-mile bike ride and a 1-1/2-mile run.
Says I-tri alumna Abby Hallock, 13, of Sag Harbor, of joining I-tri in sixth grade: “I wasn’t in a great place because I had been bullied a lot. I felt like there wasn’t really anything I could do to make me happy again. Everyone was really encouraging each other and pushing each other to do better.”
During her first triathlon, for instance, when Abby saw another girl fall off her bicycle, she stopped and stayed with her until help came, even though it hurt her own finish time. “That’s what an I-tri girl does,” she says.