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Sports 4 Life Program Spotlight: “If I could do this, I can do anything!”

On May 5, the Women’s Sports Foundation and espnW announced the 2016 recipients of the Sports 4 Life grant initiative. The Sports 4 Life program is serving an unprecedented forty organizations this year and, since its inception in 2015, has awarded 82 grants to 77 organizations across the United States.

This national effort is helping local organizations increase the participation and retention of African-American and Hispanic girls in youth athletics, two communities that are underserved and underrepresented in sports. Sports 4 Life also aims to use sports participation as a vehicle to create leadership opportunities for girls of color and to improve their overall physical health and well-being.

Survey results from girls in organizations receiving Sports 4 Life funding in 2015 found that the vast majority, 95 percent, plan to be involved with sports and exercise as an adult, placing themselves at a lower risk for chronic diseases, like diabetes, obesity, depression and cardiovascular diseases. All of these conditions are more prevalent among African-American and Hispanic females who display lower athletic participation rates and higher barrier to entry in sports.

Inspirational Triathlon Racing International (i-tri), specifically targets at-risk girls and works to help these girls benefit from the structure, discipline and positive life lessons that come from training for a triathlon. The program, based in East Hampton, N.Y., received a Sports 4 Life grant in May 2015. Through this support i-tri has been able to further integrate and engage their growing Hispanic community by ensuring Spanish materials and translators are readily available, by providing transportation as needed, and by incorporating more culturally relevant recipes into their Family Nutrition Workshops.

i-tri’s Founder, Theresa Roden, noted how when the young girls become involved in i-tri there is a ripple effect that results in family involvement as a whole. “We have seen over and over again that the parents, especially the African-American and Hispanic moms, are so impressed by the changes that they witness in their daughters that they start making positive changes in their own lives,” shared Roden. Many of the girls who participate in i-tri are referred to the program by their school’s social worker due to exhibiting destructive behaviors both socially and academically. Through i-tri the girls are given a community and challenging goal to work towards that affects their entire body, physically and mentally.

Roden founded i-tri in 2010 with the goal of leading girls through the journey of completing a triathlon and helping increase their self-esteem and fitness levels along the way. With the support of WSF’s Sports 4 Life grant, i-tri can make that difference and protect at-risk girls from damaging life choices, girls like 12 year-old Tiffany:

Tiffany first came to i-tri at a parent info session with her father, where they found a seat in the back of the room. At the end of the session they stayed in their seats and waited until all the other girls and their parents had left before walking up to speak with Theresa Roden. With tears in his eyes, Tiffany’s father explained in his second-language of English that, while he truly believed i-tri would be an incredible program for his daughter to take part in, she would not be able to take part because both he and his wife worked multiple jobs and would not have the ability to transport Tiffany to and from the training sessions.

Once the father finished speaking, Roden wrapped her arms around the man and just held him for a moment. Next, Roden called over Noely, an alumni of the program and now a hired assistant coach and translator made possible by the Sports 4 Life grant funding. Noely communicated that once a girl becomes an i-tri girl she is part of a family and they would never leave a family member behind. Together, Roden and Noely told Tiffany and her father that i-tri would help to arrange carpools or they would even pick Tiffany up themselves if necessary. Tiffany and her father left the info-session full of hope and Tiffany was signed up to begin her marathon training.

“Like many of our girls, Tiffany had never learned to swim or ride a bike,” said Roden. Thus, coaches turned their full attention to help Tiffany and even alumnae girls offered support until, as Roden put it, “[Tiffany] had that moment – the amazing moment when you realize that you are doing it – your helper has let go and you are riding on your own.”

Finally, it was race day and Tiffany’s moment to tackle 300 yards of open water, seven miles on a bike and sprint 1.5 miles to the finish line. As Tiffany worked her way through the course it was evident that not only was she physically healthier but she was more confident and self-assured. Tiffany crossed the finish line and once again her father approached Roden with tears in his eyes, but this time they were tears of joy and gratitude. Next year Tiffany will be serving as a mentor and cannot wait to help someone conquer their fears the way she did. “If I could do this, I can do anything!” says Tiffany.

Survey results from girls in organizations receiving Sports 4 Life funding in 2015 found that 92 percent of the girls were more interested in being leaders in sports and 92 percent of the girls are more interested in being leaders in their school and community.

With the help of the Sports 4 Life grant, i-tri has been able to connect with more Latina youth, like Tiffany, and successfully engage them to help teach them all of the life lessons sports and conquering a triathlon with a team has to offer. By providing transportation and translators through Sports 4 Life funding, i-tri can continue to grow their community and help girls in the area.

Playing Changes Everything. Learn more about our Sports 4 Life grant recipients, here.