Mullica Hill club helps women become triathletes

Mullica Hill Women’s Tri­ath­lon Club members (clock­wise from top) Col­leen Fos­sett, Michelle Pow­ell, Lydia DelRosso, and Maureen Brig­ham
Mullica Hill Women’s Tri­ath­lon Club members (clock­wise from top) Col­leen Fos­sett, Michelle Pow­ell, Lydia DelRosso, and Maureen Brig­ham
Posted: June 05, 2012

Mullica Hill is an intimate small town where it seems everybody knows everybody else. A quick stop at the supermarket can take half an hour because you’re likely to run into friends and neighbors and find yourself chatting and catching up.

It was against this backdrop that something marvelous was born in Mullica Hill. Colleen Fossett was the prime mover. A seasoned marathoner and triathlete, she would often run by the house of Maureen Brigham. Inspired, Brigham decided to join her.

Fossett, 42, a pharmaceutical sales rep, knew Michelle Powell, 45, a stay-at-home mom and avid runner. And Powell knew Lydia DelRosso, 36, also a pharmaceutical sales rep, who was interested in raising money for charity.

In late 2009, the women met at Blue Plate, a popular Mullica Hill restaurant, and decided to form a triathlon club. They did no advertising, but spread their intention by word of mouth. At the first organizational meeting in February 2010, about 70 women showed up, much to the founders’ surprise.

"We were so naive," says DelRosso. "We didn’t realize there would be so much interest."

That first year, the club grew to 120 members.

"From the beginning, we set the bar high, with helpful workouts and workshops." Powell says. "We tried to offer something for everybody, with seasoned athletes mentoring younger members."

The Mullica Hill Women’s Tri Club now has 480 members, mostly from Mullica Hill but some from as far away as Cape May and Philadelphia. It is the largest all-female triathlon club in the Mid-Atlantic region, says Fossett, the club president (Its cheeky motto: "No Nuts, Just Guts"), and Competitor Magazine named it "best triathlon club" in the Northeast.

On average, the women compete in about three to four triathlons a year, usually of the sprint variety (a quarter- to a half-mile open-water swim, a 10- to 20-mile bike ride, and a 5K run), though some women have graduated to half-Ironmans and Ironmans.

"When people think of a triathlete, they think of a size 2, granola-eating yogurt slurper," says Brigham. "Our goal is to get rid of that myth. We have all shapes and sizes here, so there’s no reason to be intimidated. We’re very newbie-friendly."

The women train five to six days a week, and there are workouts for all skill levels. There are regular Wednesday night bike rides from Rode’s Fireside Restaurant and Tavern in Swedesboro, as well as practice 5Ks and triathlons. On July 7, at Lake Gilman in Monroeville, the club will sponsor the second annual Queen of the Hill Triathlon. More than 200 women finished last year, and the club used proceeds from the event to make a $2,000 donation to Harrison Township to improve its recreational facilities.

The club is not just about achieving athletic success. Giving back is also an animating principle. Three years ago, the club raised money for autism. Last year the cause was ovarian cancer, and this year, melanoma, which has affected several members. Besides holding workshops designed to improve running, swimming, biking, and transitions (making a quick change from one event to the next), the club also invites experts — a cardiologist, a sports medicine doctor, a sports psychologist — to offer advice about how to improve physical and mental health.

"The women in the club are what makes it special," says Powell. "The camaraderie is amazing. It’s not a competitive environment; it’s more nurturing and supportive.

“For me, the most rewarding part is seeing women in their late 50s and early 60s who haven’t exercised in 30 years complete a triathlon and just glow. The self-confidence is contagious."

Adds DelRosso: "Sometimes we women can be hard on each other and ourselves. This is a place where all the drama is left behind. We all support each other and build each other up. One girlfriend told me the club saved her life. She has three young kids, and this is something that is just hers and hers alone."

Fossett talks about the triathlon’s power to release the "inner athlete" that has often become dormant from years of inactivity and other preoccupations and responsibilities.

"Training for triathlons is a way to get the inner athlete out," Fossett says. "You’re not only in better shape, but definitely happier. I don’t think you could find a happier group of women in a triathlon club."

The women in the club "train hard and play hard," DelRosso says. The club sponsors a golf outing and other social events designed to encourage friendship. One of the club’s offshoots is "Girls on the Glow," which is designed to encourage physical activity in girls in first through eighth grades.

The four founding members have "different strengths and weaknesses, and we play off of each other," Del Rosso says. "We treat it like a real business." That includes designing and selling the club’s own line of sports apparel, or "tri wear."

Powell, director of the Queen of the Hill Triathlon, which was a spectacular success despite the trepidation of early naysayers, declares, "You tell us no, and we’ll make it happen."

"Well Being" appears every other week, alternating with Sandy Bauers’ "GreenSpace" column. Contact Art Carey at art.carey@gmail.com. Read his recent columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.

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