“Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a family…  Whatever you call it, you need one.”  ~Jane Howard

A few years ago a few women and I started doing triathlons as a hobby.  It was a means to focus on fitness, a new and exciting way to push our limits.  One race and I was hooked.

Last weekend I did my tenth race with my “team,” a grass roots community of women that have become friends and training partners with only one thing in common: triathlons.  More than a hundred women have done races with me, and this year my 25 Tri Tribe teammates at the Danskin Triathlon in Clemont, Florida ranged in age from 14 to 73.  They are from all walks of life and are at every level of ability.  A few are elite athletes and will compete at nationals.  Others have just begun their journeys.

One of the things I love about this group is the fact that we all lead each other.   Our team’s goal is simple.  We each agree to promote, support, and encourage each other, but no one owns this team.  Each woman contributes what she can.  We do lake swims at one teammate’s house.  Others have conducted workshops for us on swimming, cycling, running, and core training.  Two of my teammates created our logo, a design that has united and branded us in ways that I never imagined.  I am the manager in that I organize group training and run our website.  And almost every returning member has reached out to a friend and brought her into the fold over the years.  Some women join us and stay forever.  Others come for a year and then move on.

This year was an especially amazing one for me, not because of my spectacular performance, but because of my spectacular team.  I have been struggling with injuries throughout the season and a recent bad knee meant that I wasn’t able to run at all by the end.  Despite this reality I decided to do the race so that I could be there body and soul in support of my team.  Half way through the cycling portion, I determined that simply finishing was going to be my only option.  As I limped through the run portion, shuffling along at turtle speed, I heard dozens of women encouraging me, teammates and strangers alike.

It was with a half mile to go that something amazing happened.  I looked up to see my friend Donna.  She had finished the race and returned to the course to bring me home.  Right behind her were Dawn and Michelle.  In my darkest moment, these three women walked with me and then ran those final yards, giving me the strength I needed to finish the race.  I share this picture of Dawn and I, not because I look fabulous, but because I don’t.  A year ago I helped Dawn learn to swim in open water.  On this day she was there to help me home.

Triathlons have taught me so much over the years about the strength of the people in my life. This year’s race reminded me of some of the most important lessons of leadership.  We are all leaders AND followers.  There is opportunity in every day to make a difference in someone’s life.   And each of has a chance to help another learn to swim in treacherous waters, or more importantly, find her way home.

If you would like to read more about the Tri Tribe and our stories, you can find them here or watch a video of the Tribe in action here.

Deborah Costello
Deborah Costello is a teacher and the Mathematics Department Chair at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida. She also serves as a consultant for the College Board. Her passions include leadership, mathematics, education, service, and triathlons. She's also a co-author of The Character Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution... One Person at a Time.
Deborah Costello

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