Interview with Theresa Roden – i-tri founder and past ITU Award of Excellence winner
14 May 2019
With nominations now open for the 2019 ITU Women’s Committee Award of Excellence, the annual recognition of an individual’s contribution to furthering the cause of women in triathlon, we caught up with last year’s winner, Theresa Roden, to hear what it meant to her to receive the award. The woman behind the i-tri programme for girls in the Long Island area of New York, Roden was a latecomer to the world of triathlon, but the empowerment she felt during her first race was something she felt she just had to share.
“I learned so many lessons while training for that triathlon and continued learning as I continued to race,” she says. “Lessons about self-acceptance, camaraderie and facing fear. I thought to myself, ‘if only I’d learned these things when I was a young girl, instead of waiting until I was in my thirties, what a different life experience I would have had!’”
The programme has now been running for ten seasons and last year saw 130 girls brought through the ranks, given precisely that sense of purpose of which Roden talks. Open to 10-to-17-year-olds, every participant takes part in the Hampton Youth Triathlon at the end of their six-month term, but the i-tri ethos is about more than the power of swim-bike-run.
“The main goal of i-tri has always been to feel good. We use the analogy of LIGHT – that is, we all arrive as balls of beautiful light and when we feel ours is bright, others can benefit from being around us. We share our thoughts about moments when we feel our light dims, and what we do to bring it back up again, and in that way i-tri creates a safe space where the girls can be heard and supported.”
I-tri works with girls from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, in partnership with ten schools on the Eastern End of Long Island, but is preparing to launch elsewhere in the USA as well as working on a programme of higher-level training for those who want to continue in the sport. So what is it about triathlon that she thinks helps bring girls together more than other sports?
“We talk about triathlon being an individual sport but training together and supporting one another is at its heart, whether you come first or last. That was one of the first things I noticed. Training for my first race I transformed myself in body, mind and spirit, from someone who always said ‘I can’t’ to someone who says ‘I-TRI!’ I love that triathlon is proactive in pursuit of equality and the inclusiveness of the athletes and the forward-thinking leadership of Marisol as ITU President.”
All of these reasons made Theresa a natural choice for nomination to the Award of Excellence and once again, ITU has opened up the nomination process for National Federations to put forward figures who have helped women in the sport at any level.
“USAT let me know that I had been nominated for the award, but never did I imagine I would be selected. There are so many everyday heroes out there doing their part for the love of triathlon and to support women and girls and while none of us do what we do for awards, those kinds of nominations mean the world. To be recognised for what you do is priceless. I was told the day after my husband’s funeral that I had been selected and I just looked towards heaven and said to him ‘I knew you were going to send me miracles, I just didn’t realise how fast!’”