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Community-based triathlon program comes to Riverhead Middle School


It’s something some adolescent girls struggle with on a regular basis.

One East End organization is working to improve the skills of girls across Long Island through group discussions, exercise and triathlon training. The group’s next target is Riverhead Middle School.

Beginning late February, 25 girls in the district will train their minds, bodies and spirits after school twice a week for six months with help from i-tri, a nonprofit devoted to improving the wellness of adolescents. Participants will complete a youth triathlon in Sag Harbor July 13, consisting of a 300-yard open water swim, 7-mile bike and 1.5-mile run. 

“It’s hard enough to be an adolescent girl,” Founder Theresa Roden said. “It’s an honor and privilege to be able to offer something empowering to girls.”

The nonprofit, located in East Hampton, has trained pre-teens from eight East End schools. It’s mostly funded by local and national charities, including the Heisman Trophy Fund for Youth Development, a partnership with the New York Community Trust which distributes income to improve the quality of life in the state.

Once a week after school, seventh-graders will complete a 45-minute-long self-esteem and empowerment session led by paid program leaders. Each week, Ms. Roden said, students will be given a theme, such as nutrition, self-care or wellness.

“That’s the spirit part of the program — they create a safe space and share their experiences,” Ms. Roden said. 

After, students will complete an hour-long fitness session, which varies from basketball to yoga.

On Saturdays, students will be transported from the middle school to the Brookhaven Aquatic Center for triathlon training — running, biking and swimming.

I-tri was founded in 2010, not long after Ms. Roden trained and completed her first triathlon with five of her friends in the early 2000s.

“It was really about the journey of getting there,” she recalled. “I had to change the way I thought about things, about myself, in order to excel.”

After completing another triathlon in August 2010, Ms. Rosen partnered with faculty from Springs Public School in East Hampton — and her 11-year-old daughter Abby — to train students for a triathlon. That winter, a group of twelve sixth graders, including Abby, joined together and i-tri was born.

“I thought, ‘if I could have learned what I did when I was 12, my life would be very different,’ ” Ms. Roden said. “That was the impetus of starting this program.”

Ms. Roden said i-tri has not yet selected the participants and members are working with Riverhead district officials to determine who is the right fit for the program. Students who are not involved in extracurricular activites or sports teams and might have difficulty inside or outside of school are prioritized for the program. Students who are not selected and want to participate are encouraged to contact the organization, but Ms. Roden said the group cannot exceed 30 seventh-graders.

Parents in the district will have the option for their children to participate in a study linked to the organization. NYU scholar Tobie Langsam will study the student’s final middle and high school transcripts and track the link between academics and athletics.

I-tri has received positive feedback in year’s past, Ms. Roden said, and hopes the program will help Riverhead students grow emotionally and physically.

“We’ve heard from parents and administrators, we’ve heard about changes in culture,” she said. “They see themselves as something bigger and that causes social change within their classrooms. To see a change because of that in Riverhead would be incredible.”

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Photo caption: Sierra Gant, of East Hampton, crosses the finish line of the BNB Hamptons Youth Triathlon at Long Beach in Sag Harbor in July. (Courtesy photo)