‘For me, setting that goal and starting along the journey to the finish line was such a turning point because up until then, I, like many women, had the unhealthiest inner dialogue that you can imagine.’
“I-tri comes from my own experience. Even though I loved to swim and ride my bike as a kid, I never thought of those as athletic endeavors. They were just things I liked to do for fun. It wasn’t until I was 37 when we were in Block Island and I saw a group of people running down the beach, completing the Block Island Triathlon, that I was inspired.
“I told a few of my friends — we all had young kids at the time — that you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I just signed up for this race next August. A few of them said, ‘Let’s do this together.’ So, we looked up how to train for a triathlon and signed up to swim at the Y. I did one lap and thought I was going to die! But as the weeks progressed, I found myself getting stronger.
“For me, setting that goal and starting along the journey to the finish line was such a turning point because up until then, I, like many women, had the unhealthiest inner dialogue that you can imagine. I was my own worst critic. I often tell the girls today I’d never let anyone talk to me the way I talked to myself.
“While I was transforming my body, I was also transforming my mind and my soul and my spirit. I was working to change my inner dialogue and learning how Olympic athletes use visualization to achieve big goals like this. It was the first time in my entire life that I was actually kind to myself. When race day came, it was unbelievable. But as great as that moment was at the finish line, what I realized was that it was really the journey to get there that was so transformative.
“I became the Pied Piper of triathlons. The next year, I brought 20 people to do that race, and over the next five years, went on to do every race on the East End of Long Island.
“In 2010, my daughter, who was about 6 when I started, was getting ready to go to middle school. I had this sense that if I could have learned all of this at her age instead of waiting until I was in my thirties, it would’ve made a huge difference. That’s where the idea for I-tri came from, to take a group of girls in that most vulnerable middle school age and give them all the tools, training, love and support to achieve a really big goal.”
“I went to my daughter’s school, Springs School in East Hampton, and pitched the idea, and they gave me the green light. That first year we worked with 10 girls in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. I wrote the curriculum that we still use today, training the body, mind and spirit.
“Thirteen years later, we now offer the program to girls at 13 schools from Montauk to Mastic and have had over 1,100 girls cross the finish line! Each week,we do after-school empowerment sessions that include lessons on self-love, visualization and affirmations, followed by a fitness session like yoga and Zumba to make fitness fun.
“On Saturdays, they train to swim and run at training facilities in East Hampton and Riverhead. In the spring, we all come together to do biking in preparation for the race. Then we move to on-course sessions in Sag Harbor.
“To level the playing field and make sure that this program is accessible to girls who can benefit, we provide transportation and all the training, equipment and uniforms at no cost to families. It’s just a magical journey that these kids go on.
“Many come to us not knowing how to swim or ride a bike and in a short amount of time successfully complete our Hamptons Youth Triathlon. It’s open to all kids 10 to 17 and held on the third Saturday of July. It consists of a 300-yard open-water swim, a six-mile bike ride and a 1.5- mile run. Many of our alums come back to coach and become lifeguards and swim instructors.
“We’re not just training them for a triathlon. We’re working on social-emotional learning and mental health. We have an integrated Science of Triathlon curriculum. What better way to explain what an incline plane is than to be riding uphill on a bike? Many of our girls go on to play sports for their schools. Some would’ve done that anyway, but so many of them wouldn’t have had the confidence to try out for a team.
“What I said about my experience on the other side of the triathlon is true for each one of those girls.: They cross that finish line feeling like there is nothing I cannot do. If I can do this, I can do anything! They’ve been taught and have learned that they matter, that their thoughts, their actions and their voices matter.”
Interviewed by Liza Burby