Originally from upstate New York, Theresa worked summers at Gurney’s Inn and fell in love with East Hampton, making it her permanent home after her college graduation.
She taught kindergarten at Hampton Day School, but after getting married and birth of their daughter Abby, the Rodens started a publishing business and produce a boating lifestyle magazine.
Theresa says she was overweight as a teenager and throughout her adult life she continued to struggle with her diet.
“I put on a lot of weight and kept it on,” she says. “I was miserable.”
A day trip to Block Island with a friend changed her life. As Theresa sat on the beach, she saw participants from the annual Block Island Triathlon run by.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do this,’” she says.
Theresa and a group of six friends began training together for the swim-bike-run endurance competition and by race time the number of women had grown to 20.
Theresa trained for seven months.
“It was such a wonderful period of time, of discovery and transformation,” she recalls. “Everything was changing, and it started with my thoughts. My go-to excuse was always: ‘I can’t.’”
But this time was different.
“I knew there was no way that I was not going to be in this race,” she says, adding the 1.5-mile running segment of the race was her biggest challenge. “My goal was crossing the finish line.”
Theresa lost 50 pounds, but gained an immeasurable amount of confidence.
“I appreciated my body for its accomplishments,” she recalls, “Instead of constantly criticizing it for not being a certain shape or size.”
Today, she says, “I am strong, I’m fast and I feel beautiful.”
As Theresa embraced her own triathlon experience and transformation, she saw that her daughter Abby, who was just entering her teens, was starting to fall into the same bad habits that plagued Theresa as a teenager.
Helping Abby became the impetus for Theresa to find a solution that would assist other adolescent girls as well. Her idea was to help increase girls’ self-esteem and fitness levels through a triathlon program.
“What if we took them and led them on this journey,” she wondered, “and gave them support and tools along the way?”
Theresa discussed her idea with a Springs School social worker who loved the concept and he principal gave the go-ahead to start a program at the school.
“It was the push I needed,” Theresa says. “I thought, ‘Just do it!’”
The i-tri pilot program was launched in 2009 and included a group of eight girls from grades 6 through 8. The girls were selected from social workers’ recommendations and from a survey they completed created by the Women’s Sports Foundation. None of the girls considered themselves athletes before joining i-tri.
The i-tri Triathlon consists of swimming 300 yards, riding a bike for 7 miles, and running for 1.5 miles. The girls are selected in January and train through July. The group has grown considerably. This year 40 girls will participate as i-tii athletes. Theresa is planning to expand into the Montauk school district in 2013 and Southampton in 2014.
The next race will be held on June 15 at Maidstone Park in East Hampton, and is open to kids ages 9 through 17.
“We have the biggest group in the race,” Theresa says.
The comraderie that has developed between the girls has been very rewarding as well.
“Nobody leaves the race until every girl comes through the race,” adds Theresa.
It’s a transformative experience for all of them.
“There’s not one girl who will say she’s not a different person,” Theresa says proudly.
i-tri also involves the girls’ families and invites them to participate in “i-tri meal makeover” sessions. Theresa has weekly workshops with the team to help improve their self-esteem through positive affirmation and visualization. i-tri alumni are invited to stay involved in the group by mentoring the race trainees.
The group received its 501(c)3 non-profit tax status just last month.
“Right now i-Tri is in its infancy,” Theresa says. “We’re a grassroots organization but our board and I are serious about fundraising.”
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) is a full-fledged supporter of the organization.
“It is fitting for i-tri to be a model for similar programs around our nation,” the Congressman says. “I have recommended i-tri to the Obama Administration for its consideration as the First Lady continues to promote her national ‘Let’s Move’ initiative.” Theresa believes that strong girls can grow up to become empowered women.
“They are less likely to take drugs, and are taking charge of their health,” she says. “It’s something they can practice their whole life.”