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updated: 6/6/2014 10:21 AM

Naperville's Esprit de She Triathlon showcases women's strength, courage

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  • The Esprit de She, a sprint-length triathlon for women only, draws about 8,000 participants -- some just hoping to finish, others aiming for top times and personal records.

       The Esprit de She, a sprint-length triathlon for women only, draws about 8,000 participants -- some just hoping to finish, others aiming for top times and personal records.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer, JUNE 2012

  • After a half-mile swim at Centennial Beach, Esprit de She athletes bike 13.3 miles before running 3.1 miles.

      After a half-mile swim at Centennial Beach, Esprit de She athletes bike 13.3 miles before running 3.1 miles.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • As a women-only race, the Esprit de She provides a nurturing, supportive atmosphere for veterans and newcomers alike, participants say.

      As a women-only race, the Esprit de She provides a nurturing, supportive atmosphere for veterans and newcomers alike, participants say.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • When Mommy is racing, the Esprit de She route is lined with cheering dads and supportive children.

       When Mommy is racing, the Esprit de She route is lined with cheering dads and supportive children.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer, June 2012

  • The Esprit de She Triathlon centers around Naperville's Centennial Beach, which offers spectators a good view of the athletes throughout the swim as well as of other parts of the race.

      The Esprit de She Triathlon centers around Naperville's Centennial Beach, which offers spectators a good view of the athletes throughout the swim as well as of other parts of the race.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Miles Dobis
mdobis@dailyherald.com

Thousands of women will swim, bike and run through the streets of Naperville on Sunday as part of the annual Esprit de She Triathlon.

Established in 2002 by Life Time Fitness as the SheROX Triathlon, the event is meant to give female athletes a platform to display their fitness and teamwork, according to event organizer Lindsay Kurhajetz. Taking place at and around Centennial Beach, the event follows the format of a sprint triathlon. The race begins with a half-mile swim at the beach, followed by a 13.3-mile bike ride through the city and a 5-kilometer road race.

Kurhajetz calls the location unique because of Centennial Beach's zero-depth entry and because the race can be held in a compact area. Women and girls ages 8 to 83 will participate, either individually or in relay teams of three with each athlete completing a leg of the race.

Returning runner Robyn Walter of Bloomington participates in at least five triathlons a year and considers the Esprit de She one of her favorites.

"Triathlons are hard events, and the strength and courage these women show is extraordinary," Walter said.

The race is preceded by an expo market the day before, where participants pick up their packets and are given course safety presentations. But Kurhajetz says the highlight is race day itself, when athletes warm up and are encouraged by spectators.

"It really is fun to watch so much activity," Kurhajetz said. "It's a good mix of athletes, both people that do this semiprofessionally and people that want to see if they are up for the challenge."

The event also offers activities for nonathletes. Volunteers can stay in specific locations and guide participants, and onlookers can explore the collection of tents and health product vendors in Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., when their favorite racers aren't in sight.

They also can watch the Survivor Wave, a race start time set aside for participants who have battled cancer. The wave will be particularly touching to Walter this year; this is her first Esprit de She since finding a lump in her breast early last year. While Walter never needed chemotherapy or radiation treatment, the experience with breast cancer altered how she viewed her athletic commitment.

"I felt much more emotional this year signing up," she said. "Cancer really impacted the way I view my body image in a way I had never noticed before."

Walter's battle has not deterred her participation in triathlons, and she has even gotten her family hooked on the events. A recent race in her hometown of Bloomington saw her team up with her two sons in a relay where the three family members each took a leg of the race.

"It was great," Walter said. "Being able to do that with my family was a joy."

Walter will join more than 8,000 women for the triathlon, which begins at 7 a.m. Sunday, June 8. Parking for participants and spectators is available in downtown Naperville. A portion of the proceeds from the race support the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and Girls on the Run Chicago.

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