Helping underserved, middle school-aged girls discover empowerment, camaraderie and self-worth through athletics and movement is the core focus of an East Hampton nonprofit that trains them for triathlon events.
Theresa Roden, the founder of i-tri, said she began training and competing years ago in triathlons, which require competitors to swim, cycle and run over various distances. Roden became inspired after watching a group of people running on the beach as they trained for the Block Island triathlon. She was vacationing there — Block Island is off the coast of Rhode Island — with her husband and her then-11-year-old daughter, Abby.
Roden began to consider how it could help girls like Abby, who at the time was getting ready to enter middle school in the Springs School District.
“I just thought, ‘What if we took girls who are going through a tough time and didn’t consider themselves athletes and giving them all of the tools, training and support they needed and see where it went?’ ” Roden said she recalled thinking.
The nonprofit started in 2010 with 10 girls enrolled. Twelve years later, i-tri has had more than 1,000 girls from a dozen schools across the East End participate in its programs.
The students are usually referred by their school districts, according to Roden. Participants may be economically disadvantaged, struggling academically or socially or are dealing with trauma or other issues when they are recommended to the nonprofit. Once recruited, the girls take part in fitness sessions featuring yoga, square dancing, Pilates and more, while also training once a week for the annual Hampton Youth Triathlon, held every July in Sag Harbor.
Maria Pentcheva, 40, enrolled her daughter Calina, 12, in the program last year. Pentcheva said Calina had struggled with anxiety, and that training in the program has not only helped her deal with those feelings but also inspired her to join her school’s field hockey team.
“It really helped her build her stamina, so now she’s really putting herself out there, and I’m so proud of her for that,” Pentcheva said.
Reshma Alsuran, 45, of Shirley, has two daughters, Victoria Nelson, 16, and Amelia Nelson, 12, who have participated in i-tri.
Victoria Nelson, who said she was shy growing up, swam, ran and did other exercises in the triathlon program while in middle school in the William Floyd School District.
“My favorite part was getting to meet new girls and getting motivation and getting out of my comfort zone,” Nelson said. “It really helped boost my confidence over the years, and I’m really glad I did the program.”
Amelia, who is new to the program, said she enjoys meeting girls from other schools while learning how to ride a bicycle properly and swim better.
Bridgehampton School Principal Michael Miller said the skills taught by the nonprofit are crucial to helping its young charges develop into strong young women.
“You can see the change in their person over the time they’re involved,” Miller said. “They learn self-confidence, they start to believe in themselves and they’re motivated to want to improve, not just in academics, but character.”
- Of the girls who participate in the nonprofit’s program, 54% are Latina, 21% are Black, 19% are white, 4% are Native American and 2% are Asian American. In addition, 45% come from divorced or single-parent households, and nearly 70% experience food or housing insecurity.
- The nonprofit annually serves approximately 150 middle-school girls from Montauk to Mastic, ages 11 to 14 who attend one of 12 partner schools.
- More information about the program is available at www.itrigirls.org.