CLUB PROFILE Just Tri It, Saskatoon 56
TAKING THE TRY-A-TRI concept to a whole new level, Saskatoon’s Just Tri It program offers eight weeks of maybe the most supportive training a newbie has ever seen. The program focuses exclusively on women and provides a great model for introducing the thrill of triathlon to those who want to try.
Just Tri It (JTI) was launched in 2001 by three women who took on their first triathlon the year before. They had no prior race knowledge but learned a lot and wanted to share so other women would be inspired and confident to complete a triathlon too.
On the program’s first registration day, over 120 women showed up. Clearly there was an eager audience in Saskatoon and that continues today. The program’s 85 spaces typically sell out before kickoff day and, year after year, 75 per cent of the participants are new. There are an estimated 1,500 program alumni and many return to volunteer, continually adding strength to this community.
“The underlying success of JTI is leadership by example,” explains Liz Hoffman, one of the program coordinators. “Our volunteers have all participated in the program and provide stories of success and inspiration. They have overcome challenges and balance an active lifestyle with lots of other commitments including family and work.”
Every year, over 40 volunteers help to keep participants safe and engaged throughout the eight weeks.
JTI runs annually from mid-March to mid-May as a branch program of the Saskatoon Triathlon Club. Each participant completes one of two sprint-distance triathlons in the Makin’ It Happen Triathlon, a Mother’s Day event named in memory of Marlene Antoniuk, a committed JTI volunteer who passed away in 2010.
“We provide a safe and welcoming environment with lots of handson attention, encouragement, and motivation,” explains Hoffman who, along with Susan Hamilton, another coordinator, schedules coaches, volunteers, speakers and information sessions. “We are there to explain what is happening, to inspire the participants and to assist the coaches in whatever way necessary.”
In addition to certified coaches, participants benefit from partnerships with local experts and retail partners who bring a wealth of knowledge to weekly information sessions. They also have access to the YWCA for the program duration so anyone who misses a training session can make that up on their own time.
“Women of all shapes, sizes, physical abilities and ethnicity are encouraged to participate,” says Hoffman, adding that most have never put all three sports together before. Although some bring experience in marathons or speed swimming, others haven’t done anything athletic for years, including riding a bike.
Some JTI participants have never learned to swim. “Inexperienced swimmers are given the opportunity to use whatever works for them during the final race,” explains Hoffman, “Flutter board, life jacket, flotation belt, or pool noodle. We once had a lady who walked as far as she could touch the bottom of the pool and then turned around, for 200 metres.”
Hoffman thinks the best part is less about competition and more about just completing that first triathlon and meeting new friends and supporters.
“Being around this group of women gives you confidence to get through all the hurdles,” she says. “There’s a great atmosphere and we add in lots of prizes and shopping nights with wine and cheese!”
New this year, with the help of two local businesses, Brainsport and Bike Doctor, training and equipment will be given to two women in the care of the YWCA’s Turning Points, a transitional housing program for those ready to change their lives. This seems a perfect match as they will not only gain new skill sets but also friends and a supportive community.
Support is the theme that swims, bikes and runs all the way through JTI. And like the 75-year-old woman who signed up to complete her first triathlon last year, these women inspire each other, year after year, by stretching their boundaries to try something new and amazing.
Helen Powers is a freelance journalist from Dundas, Ont.