KANELAND – Dismounting their bikes in front of Hill’s Country Store in Kaneville, a group of women, ages 30 to 55, gather to discuss the 15-mile, no-one-left-behind ride they just completed. Soon they’re laughing and catching up, immersed in the feeling of camaraderie during the July 31 summer night.
They’re members of Girls Gone Tri, a free group for women to exercise or train with triathlon sports while being supported by group members and coaches. Their ride was part of the group’s weekly Thursday night bike rides in Kaneville.
Christine Schirtzinger, the group’s lead coach, said she wants members of the group to abstain from cliques or the intimidating nature that can come with cycling, running and swimming.
“Maybe some women only have three hours a week [for exercise], and it’s all good,” Schirtzinger said. “We can all make different goals to get healthy and fit, and we can do that as a team and we can empower each other.”
Many group members said they see a lack of non-professional cycling programs catered to women.
“Most of the [female biking] groups out there are of elite athletes, and someone who’s just starting out, or is curious about it, is going to feel very intimidated,” said Lauren Cardelli, a Batavia resident and a group member.
A professional cyclist for 25 years, Schirtzinger said she retired to have children. Schirtzinger then founded the group 21/2 years ago after she started leading triathlon clinics at the indoor performance center at The Bike Rack in St. Charles.
“There are so many people in triathlons who are so willing to give back to the community, and they want to reach out, so I wanted to build that bridge between people who want to know and people who are so willing to give that information.”
Schirtzinger received a coaching certificate and was hired to run and coach the indoor performance center. The group’s members and coaches practice there mainly in cold weather.
“We work on a lot of skills during the winter,” Schirtzinger said about biking. “Most of the people new to our group haven’t had a lot of experience on the road. I love that we can practice all those skills inside, where [participants] are very safe.”
Schirtzinger said the group came to fruition with the help of sponsors The Bike Rack, Geneva Running Outfitters, Tri’d And True, Blue Seventy and Pearl Izumi. Group members get donations and discounts from the sponsors so they can have triathlon equipment.
“I literally could not do this without them, they’ve been such incredible resources for me,” Schirtzinger said about her sponsors. “I think it would have been a lot more cost-prohibitive without them.”
Before Dyzzy Kramer, a North Aurora resident, joined the group in April, she said she mainly worked on sports on her own.
“I never had this group before,” Kramer said. “It’s really motivating, and it helps me grow as a person.”
That motivation is proven effective by a slew of accomplishments obtained the group’s members, who often use Girls Gone Tri to train for other events. Kramer said she completed her first Half Ironman in July, and that she’s doing another in two weeks.
“I learned how to ride and how to ride more efficiently,” Cardelli said. “I went from an average of 11 mph to 17 mph. It’s gradual growth, but it’s the participation of the group that gets you there.”
The group organized its version of a triathlon, “The Annual UN-race,” which was held June 14 at the Batavia Quarry. The untimed race consisted of a 400-yard swim, 10-mile bike and 3-mile run.
“We had one woman who has two active kids, who works full time and was working on her MBA,” Schirtzinger said. “She came to The UN-race and just did the swim so she could get home to go graduate with her MBA.”
Group members, many of whom have jobs, kids or both, utilize the exercise and friendly support as a form of self-care.
“Biking is my time,” Schirtzinger said. “It’s what I do and is who I am, separate from my kids.”
Group member and St. Charles resident Laura Parker said that the Thursday night rides are a source of stress relief.
“There are some rides where, if you ask me my name I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you because I’m very much in the moment,” Parker said.
OUTBOX: On the Web
To view a video of a Girls Gone Tri Thursday night bike ride, visit the online version of this story at KCChronicle.com. Also, visit KCChronicle.com to view a photo list associated with this story.