By Terri Ritchie
Sopris Sun Staff
I first became aware of the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team (RFWTT) about four years ago when I saw a friend post her triathlon photos on Facebook. She had joined and accomplished this with her daughter and I thought they looked so proud and happy together. Since that time I would run into various women at either exercise classes, the pool or just around town who would mention the team in conversation. Whenever I would say it sounded like such fun they would always say “You’d love it. You should sign up!.”
This March I started inquiring more. How far do we swim? Do you have to do freestyle? How far is the bike? How far is the run? What is the time commitment? Could I really do this? I emailed Coach Nancy Reinisch and she was always quick to respond. The race that the team trains for is the Tri for the Cure in Denver. It is a sprint distance triathlon: 750M (1/2 Mile) swim, 18.3K (11.4 Miles) bike, and a 5K (3.1 Miles) run. The team trains for 14 weeks starting in May; twice a week as a team with two more on your own. After I relayed to Nancy all my excuses and concerns, she replied (in what I now know to be typical Nancy style) “If not now, when?”
I had so many reasons that I wanted to get involved: trusting my body to get in shape without injury; team camaraderie, support and coaching; and honoring my mother and baby sister who were taken by cancer. I decided it was time to give it a try. If not now, when?
I couldn’t have known then how much I would learn and how much RFWTT would change my life. From the first meeting I realized the team was special. Nancy introduced herself and her co-founder and swim coach Judy Haynes to the group along with their team of running, swimming and biking coaches. She explained how the team started 18 years ago; her past and ongoing challenges with breast cancer and then she opened the floor for other team members to share their experiences. Many stood and shared their stories of overcoming and dealing with medical issues such as cancer, diabetes and weight problems. There were all body types and conditioning levels represented from age 30 to 73. Women balancing careers and mothers trying to juggle conditioning and family life all came together. Everyone had their own reasons for joining the team.
RFWTT is composed of roughly half newcomers (tri-babies) and half experienced triathletes (tri-umphs). It is a non-competitive (not for any lack of competitive spirit or talent) and supportive group. I’ve learned so much over the past 14 weeks. In the pool I progressed from a nervous swimmer doing any and every stroke possible in order to finish the swim to feeling comfortable in my freestyle and regulating my breathing. On my bike I learned to change my gears more responsibly and use the time to hydrate and get needed nutrition. In the run I learned to trust my body again; that I can run/walk to avoid injury.
We met at 5:15 am on Aug. 6 in the hotel parking lot with headlamps, helmets and backpacks on, ready to bike to the race course at Cherry Creek Reservoir. As we rode in the darkness of the early morning I could feel the butterflies start. At our destination I laid down my transition mat with all my gear in order: helmet – check, sunglasses – check, water bottle – check. The list goes on. After going through the dance of putting on my wetsuit and grabbing my goggles I headed down to the water. The sun shone brilliantly over the choppy waters. A beautiful site although very intimidating. I got my butterflies in formation (an inspirational quote from Coach Nancy) and proceeded to my wave (age group). Thankfully the water calmed down as each wave started their swim.
After finishing the swim I transitioned to the bike. I saw team members as I rode the course and gave a quick smile making sure to focus on the obstacles on the road. Next up was the run. I headed up the Dam(n) Hill giving high fives or head nods as I passed my teammates on their trek downhill. The finish line came none too soon and with gravity on my side I strode into the finish with teammates cheering (and a big hug from my son). 65 teammates crossed the finish line (65 starters, 65 finishers!)
A new beginning
The race on Aug. 6 was the culmination of weeks of hard but also fun and inspirational training sessions for everyone. We were well prepared physically and mentally – or so we thought. At our team dinner the night before the race, Nancy Reinisch announced that she and Judy Haynes would be stepping down from the helm of the team. We were all saddened to hear their 18 year reign would be coming to an end. They have had such an impact on so many women in the valley from Rifle all the way to Aspen. Women who never thought of themselves as athletes were transformed into confident triathletes – no small feat. While this chapter for the team has come to an end, there is still a bright future. Nancy also announced that the RFWTT would be led into the future under the direction of Sharma Phillips and Carla Westerman – two experienced and motivated traithletes/trainers.
I feel such gratitude to the coaches, volunteers and all my teammates who helped me on my journey.
Carpools: In the early days I carpooled with Nancy Zeigel, Margot Fishman and Maureen Nuckols (an 18 year tri-umph and inspiration). They have a wealth of knowledge that I appreciated but didn’t totally understand regarding time devices, swimming accessories, etc. and always had lots of fun and raucous discussions. They’d always reassure me “You don’t need to worry about this yet.”
When it came time to bike I started carpooling with Lorraine Escue. I learned what an amazing athlete she is and enjoyed hearing about what exciting thing she’d be doing next – dining with friends, playing pickle ball or taking on an out-of-town race challenge. We had many early mornings loading bikes and fun talks on the road.
• Cate Bishop convinced me that I could do this Tri and encouraged me to sign up. She always had a smiling face in and out of the water with lots of motivational advice.
• Heidi Halladay, Janet Early, Carol McCurry, Sharma Phillips, Katie Soden, Carla Westerman and Tianna White always had lots of great running advice.
• Nancy Reinisch had incredible Tri advice, support and weekly emails and always kept me motivated. What a warrior… fighting through treatments and keeping us all inspired and organized!
• Judy Haynes organized all the great swim training including open water swims at Harvey Gap and taught me healing through foam rolling and body positioning.
• Kathy Westley helped me find my pace and breath in those early days in the pool.
• Terry Heggy gave me confidence in my freestyle swim and helped me find my “walking” pace.
• Jacque McMillan and Jill Wilson kept the team on track with team uniforms, technology and overall organization.
Thank you to the whole team for all the support. I am in awe of the heart and soul of these women and their dedication to changing women’s lives – one at a time. What a tri-umph!