As she dropped her bicycle to the ground and took off on foot, Abby Roden had a short lead on her closest teammate in the Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon.
After swimming 300 yards and biking 7 miles, Roden had just a mile and a half of winding, paved roads in the Springs park between her and the finish line. The 13-year-old wasn’t going to win the race, but she wanted the best time among her teammates - a group of girls from the Springs School.
But soon she heard the sounds of sneakers hitting the ground behind her. Her teammate, Camila Tucci, was on her trail.
“Then I started thinking, ‘Why do I have to come in first?’” she said. “I should come in with Camila.”
So the girls ran together and crossed the finish line hand in hand.
“My run was the best run I ever had,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without her.”
The girls, who were between the ages of 11 and 13, were competing in the annual race as the culmination of i-tri, a fitness and wellness program for a hand-picked group of 23 girls in the Springs School led by Theresa Roden, Abby Roden’s mother.
The group is geared toward girls that don’t consider themselves athletes or who have low self-esteem, Theresa Roden said.
“They’re girls on the outskirts, not accepted by the group,” she said, and through training together for the race, they become each other’s support systems. “They form a family. They depend on each other.”
Over the course of three months, meeting twice a week to train and talk about self esteem and body image, Theresa Roden has seen girls transform into strong, confident young women and able athletes. At the race on Sunday, every one of them finished.
“Today 23 girls crossed the finish line,” she said. “And they transformed from the inside out.”
Noely Martinez, 12, of East Hampton, was picked for the group this year while her family was going through a difficult time at home. Her mother, Noemi Sanchez, said it has made a huge difference. She said her daughter was never very active, but more importantly, she has grown up, shown more confidence, and made friends.
“Something happened in our lives and they tried to help us,” she said. “And they helped a lot.”
Martinez said she never expected to finish the race, but she pushed herself each step of the way and crossed the finish line with a smile.
“It’s made me feel really good,” she said.
Photo: The i-tri girls make a bridge for one of their teammates, Noely Martinez, as she crosses the finish line at the Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon.