THE GIRLS OF I-TRI (ITRIGIRLS.ORG) HAVE TAKEN THE EAST END BY STORM—ONE TRIATHLON AT A TIME. HERE, FOUNDER AND CHIEF VISIONARY OFFICER THERESA RODEN TALKS INSPIRATION, COMMUNITY AND WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE ORGANIZATION.
The girls of i-tri grow the emotional, physical and mental skills to run a triathlon. GIRLS PHOTO COURTESY OF THERESA RODEN/I-TRI; BACKGROUND PHOTO BY BRENOANP/PEXELS
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THIS ORGANIZATION? My answer to this question is always the same: I was this girl; I was never an athlete; I hated gym class; I went out of my way to make it seem like things were fine when in reality my life was anything but fine. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and made the crazy decision to train for a triathlon that everything changed—instead of saying I can’t, I started saying I’ll try. Instead of beating myself up for being so slow, I started congratulating myself for being a little faster than yesterday. And for the very first time in my life, I was kind to myself. I knew that in order to complete this very big and scary goal, I would need to change my thoughts and my words. I trained with a group of fabulous women, and we learned from each other and supported each other every step of the way. While we trained, we talked and shared about our lives and I realized something profound: that when you really get to know someone you realize that we are so much more alike than different, that even though we come from different backgrounds and circumstances, those feelings of insecurity and loneliness that I felt as an adolescent are universal.
WHAT DRIVES YOUR PASSION? After I crossed that first finish line, I did about 12 more races in the years that followed, and when my daughter started middle school, I looked at her and thought if I could have learned these lessons at 12 instead of 35, what a difference it would have made. In 2010 I marched myself into the principal’s office and pitched the idea of what if we took a group of middle school girls who might be struggling at home or at school and give them the support and training necessary—mind, body and spirit—to complete a youth triathlon? He gave me his blessing, and we worked with a small group of eight girls that first year. They wanted to do it again the following year and get more girls involved and grow i-tri into an organization that could benefit girls everywhere. Twelve years later, we are now in 13 different schools from Montauk to Mastic, and more than 1,000 girls have crossed the finish line.
The girls of i-tri PHOTO: COURTESY OF THERESA RODEN/I-TRI
HOW DO YOU HOPE TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE IN THE COMMUNITY? I believe that when you empower girls and give them the opportunity to discover they are capable, brave and strong, they grow up to be competent, confident and compassionate adults—who have the right tools and mindset to face challenges and make the world a better place for all of us.
Over the years, i-tri has been recognized as a program that not only empowers girls but has a ripple effect in their families, schools and communities. Our participants go on to hold leadership positions in clubs, organizations and student government. They excel on sports teams and are given lead roles in school and community productions. As our first groups are now graduating college, we are excited to celebrate their successes as they begin their new careers.
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS ORGANIZATION RESONATES WITH HAMPTONITES SO MUCH? I think the very nature of the sport of triathlon resonates with Hamptonites in a special way. We appreciate the natural beauty and resources we have here, and seeing kids taking advantage of the waters and scenic roadways to be physically active and train for something as challenging as a triathlon makes us feel very fortunate to live where we do.
Founder and chief visionary officer of i-tri Theresa Roden. BY TANYA MALOTT
WHAT IS UP NEXT FOR YOU AND THE ORGANIZATION? We have always been driven by the vision of those first eight girls: to bring i-tri to any girl, anywhere, who could benefit from it. We continue to grow locally on Long Island with a vision to start a program in New York City in the near future and eventually expand nationally and even internationally.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO BUZZ? We have always known that i-tri supports the physical, mental and emotional health of our participants, but in 2020 and 2021 our role in supporting the mental health of our participants took center stage. We met with our girls twice a week on Zoom and did our empowerment and fitness sessions together, but as the weeks turned into months we noticed a sharp decline in the engagement and mental health of our participants, so we added in art therapy and connected families to mental health resources. This past fall, we invested in training for our entire staff and board—we engaged with the Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport (chjs.org) to train us in Trauma Informed Care and Coaching (TIC), and as we return to our in-person program we are in the process of integrating TIC into all aspects of our program and organization.