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Tucson Tri Girls help make triathlons doable for women of all abilities

When envisioning a triathlon, most of us probably think about the Ironman races—a grueling 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and concluding with a 26.2-mile run. Only top athletes need apply. But there are triathlons of different lengths, for different age groups, for women, for children, and even some with mud and obstacle courses. The sport is booming with several races in Tucson each year, and others throughout the state. 

In Tucson, the Tucson Tri Girls nonprofit (tucsontrigirls.org) seeks to provide female triathletes of all levels and abilities a team atmosphere, training clinics, education and contacts for others interested in the sport. The organization started in April 2003 and currently has more than 500 members on their listserv and 100 active members. It's open to women of all ages, and current members include some in their 60s and 70s. 

The organization started with "a group of women who just realized they were seeing each other at all these events. They joined forces and started the email listserv. It's very active. It's where people can go and look for training partners and advice," says president Stacie LaPointe. 

LaPointe has been an avid runner since 2002. A knee injury prevented her from continuing to run long distances and she found Tucson Tri Girls in May 2010. She says members are all over the spectrum with some never having completed a triathlon to those who compete in ultra-marathons, where the running distance can be as long as a 50k. And she says some members don't do full triathlons but instead focus on one or two of the endurance aspects. 

"Most everyone starts out with a sprint, which is a half-mile swim, a 12- to 14-mile bike ride and a 5k. There are also Olympic distance triathlons, with (less than) a mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 10k. And there is a popular event, one that is growing, called the Half Iron. It's half the distances of the Ironman," explains LaPointe. 

When I ask about the gender difference, LaPointe says "it's one sport where there has been no lessening for women. Men and women at the world championships compete on the same course. It's the same at local events. They (compete) on the same course, the same distances, at the same time."

In regard to local racing, LaPointe points out that triathlon is a big sport here. She names Tucson, San Diego and Boulder, Colo. as popular training locations. "We get a lot of pro triathletes who train here during the off season. So we have high level coaches here." Our yearlong sun and prominence in the biking arena are contributing factors as to why Tucson is a triathlete hub. 

Some of the more popular races the Tri Girls support include the Tri Tucson events (Tucson Triathlon—coming up on Sunday, March 23, Firecracker Triathlon and Tinfoilman Triathlon), the Oro Valley Sprint Triathlon, TriZona Triathlon and the Patagonia Triathlon. Tri Girls members not only participate but also volunteer at these events. 

"A big component of our group is giving back to the community. We'll be out there handing out water, cheering for runners, helping with the swim. When women are out there competing, they want to see a friendly face and want to have encouragement. Whatever level they are at, there is someone supporting them," says LaPointe. 

Support within Tucson Tri Girls comes also in the form of education. "We try to focus on education and have a pro athlete come in to speak at our meetings. We've had speakers on nutrition, self-care topics, mountain biking, open-water swimming ... In January, local triathlete Hillary Biscay spoke." Biscay has completed more than 60 Ironman triathlons around the world.

TTG also offers training clinics—some members only and others open to all. Past clinics have been on mountain biking, bike handling, turning, climbing and descending techniques and open water swimming. In addition, monthly meetings are open to nonmembers. The next one takes place at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 10, at TriSports, 4495 S. Coach Drive. It will be a "Triathlon 101" meeting where attendees can connect with others interested in the same events, distances or even from the same part of town.

"We are all backgrounds and come in all shapes, sizes and variety," says LaPointe. "We are inclusive and super supportive. We want to help (women) get into any of these events. Everyone can do it."

More by Irene Messina

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