"Fill in the blank," Theresa Roden asked a group of middle school girls over lunch: "I love my . . ."
Roden, founder and executive director of i-tri, a fitness and wellness program for girls based in Springs, was conducting a workshop entitled What is Beauty?
Now in its second year, i-tri has 23 athletes from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades of the training for the second annual Maidstone Park Youth Triathlon to be held on July 24. Although the goal is to complete the physical challenge of swimming 300 yards, biking seven miles and running 1.5 miles, Roden stresses that i-tri is not about weight loss.
“The idea,” she said, “is to teach girls to set huge goals, learn the steps to get there and apply those tools to everyday life. It’s transformation through triathlon.”
Roden, who has a background in early childhood and elementary education, said, “It’s important the girls feel that they have chosen the program for themselves.” During gym class, students are asked to fill in a questionnaire to rate their activity level and athletic ability. Physical education teacher Nancy Olson then makes recommendations based on their responses.
“Students who showed an interest and had motivation to participate were selected for the program,” said Springs guidance counselor Stacy McCally, who contributes to the selection process. According to McCally, the girls who participated last year “showed an increased interest in physical fitness, exhibited more confidence and developed a support system within the group that was emotionally uplifting.”
Weekly self esteem workshops are one component of the program. The girls and their families also attend family nutrition classes, led by director Jennifer Taylor, where they discuss topics such as what fat does to the body and how to make healthier choices.
Recently, Taylor had a volunteer stick her fingers into a can of Crisco shortening to demonstrate how fat clings to arteries. Later the girls sampled Power Tacos made with turkey, beans and romaine lettuce.
“We try to expose the girls to different ways to get fit,” said Roden, adding the third component of the program has the girls participate in weekly fitness activities hosted by local gym and exercise facilities, including Zumba at the , biking at , yoga and a sensory based movement practice called Nia.
In the upcoming year, Roden hopes to expand i-tri to the Southampton, Montauk and East Hampton school districts.
Alexa Berti, a seventh grader in her second year of i-tri, said she hopes to become a better athlete and boost her confidence. Recalling the inaugural triathlon, Berti said, “You have butterflies in your stomach and are like, 'oh my God, this is the day',” but, her favorite moment was “running, feeling the breeze, seeing the finish line and people cheering. It made me feel special.”
I-tri seems to be having an impact. When asked to fill in the sentence Roden posed to them, one girl did not focus on her hair or eye color. Instead, she wrote “I love my laugh."