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In girls' triathlete program, self-esteem is the goal

Girls from the Springs School work out after

Girls from the Springs School work out after school as part of the i-tri program, which trains them to compete in a triathlon in July. (April 7, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

Alana Ellis remembers finishing last year's Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon and feeling like she could do anything -- like catching up with some much-deserved sleep.

“I was just running and I remember thinking, ‘Once it’s over you can do whatever you want. You can sleep,’” said Ellis, 13, of Springs. “‘Right now you just have to put all your effort into this.’”

And she did, finishing in 1 hour, 2 minutes and 53 seconds. Then she celebrated with the group of girls she had trained with during the four months prior.

For Ellis, it wasn’t just the fact that she finished that felt good; it was about the girls that she had finished with and the journey they had taken together.

Ellis was one of the first members of i-tri, a fitness and wellness group for girls in the Springs School founded by Springs parent Theresa Roden.

Every Thursday after school, they learn a new form of exercise like Zumba, cycling or suspension training. Every Saturday they meet at the YMCA to swim. As the race gets closer, they also practice on the course. Once a week during their lunch period, the girls also meet with Roden to discuss self-esteem and body issues.

The idea for i-tri came straight out of Roden’s own personal experience, she said.

“I was the unathletic girl, the heavy girl, got picked last for every sport,” she said. “I always had the attitude, ‘I can’t do it.’”

That is until she was in her mid-30s, she said, and she was suddenly inspired to make a change and signed up for the Block Island Triathlon.

After one year of training, Roden said she crossed the triathlon finish line -- but it was the experience of working toward the goal with friends and building her self-esteem that made the lasting impact on her life.

Roden, 42, said she wanted to pass her experience on to others, especially her daughter Abby, who was 13 when she started i-tri.

In its second year, the group now has 23 members, including the original eight girls who together completed last year’s triathlon. They are now serving as an alumni council and also helped pick a board of directors.

The program recently received a $10,000 grant from the Women’s Sport Foundation, which Roden said she hopes will help her expand the program to other schools in the future.

The Springs School physical education teachers, social worker and guidance counselors help Roden by suggesting participants based on two criteria: fitness levels and self-esteem. The girls who are chosen -- and accept the challenge -- are each evaluated physically and given the Rosenberg self-esteem test at the start and end of the program, and so far, have improved immensely on both fronts, she said.

“It’s not about losing weight, it’s about getting fit,” she said. “It’s about feeling good about yourself physically and mentally.”

Ellis, who also plays basketball, tennis, volleyball and track, said she was initially offended that she was chosen because she thought it meant her teachers thought she wasn’t fit.

But in the end, she said she realized it was about much more than just the physical challenge.

“I like that a bunch of girls that aren’t close in the beginning, toward the end get really close,” she said. “We’re all going through the same things together.”

Noely Martinez, 11, of Springs, is participating in i-tri for the first time this year. She said she was hesitant at first because she didn’t think working out after school would be fun, but she’s starting to like it.

As for the triathlon -- a 300-yard swim, 7-mile bike ride and 1.5-mile run -- Martinez said she’s never done so much physical activity at once before, “but I can try,” she said.

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