South Charlotte

Neighborhood women bond, get in shape

Last September, 952 women completed the Ramblin' Rose Triathlon, a women-only 250-yard pool swim, nine-mile bike ride and two-mile run event.

More than a dozen finishers were friends and neighbors from Huntingtowne Farms in south Charlotte.

While their reasons for doing the race differed, their support for each other was a constant, from the first day of training in January until they crossed the finish line nine months later.

Katie Smoot, 33, helped organize the Facebook page to encourage women in the neighborhood to sign up and train.

"It was addictive, and felt like if one could do it, we could all do it," said Smoot. "We supported each other's goals."

Traci Millea, 44, is not afraid of a challenge. To celebrate her 40th birthday, she trained and completed the more than 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. This year she will travel to Africa on a mission trip with her church.

But water - well, that's another story.

About 10 years ago, Millea was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that left her deaf in one ear. Millea also experiences severe vertigo, a constant ringing in her ear and has a hole in her inner ear after an attempt at treatment.

Millea loves being at the pool but does not go underwater. Even showering requires careful maneuvering.

But she wanted to do the Ramblin' Rose triathlon anyway, thinking it was the perfect opportunity to face her fear and achieve her goal of getting healthier. She signed up for the race and started telling friends.

The neighborhood group of soon-to-be triathletes began to grow.

"It was a bonding situation for us girls," Millea said. "We cursed our way through it, we sweated our way through it and we bled our way through it."

Millea carefully put in her earplug, tested it in the shower and deemed it good to go.

In the summer, she swam at the neighborhood pool and practiced at the Marion Diehl Recreation Center. She grew more confident and enjoyed training with her friends.

"It was a lot of support, a lot of girl time and a lot of estrogen," she said. Her swim time meant she would start at the back of the pack, so she cheered her stronger swimming neighbors on.

When it was her turn to hit the pool, friends and family gathered around, offering encouragement.

"That was the biggest challenge for me, my biggest fear to overcome, but I did it," she said.

Roadblocks

For Natalie Castro, 40, the Ramblin' Rose Triathlon was just the beginning.

"Making that decision to try to train and accomplish that goal led me to create an entire bucket list of things I wanted to do before I turned 40," she said.

On race day, Castro had some jitters that were compounded by some unexpected challenges, including low air pressure in her bike tires and a more-difficult-than-expected run.

But with each setback came encouragement. During one particularly steep bike climb, she recalls a volunteer at the top of the hill shouting out her race number, telling her she could do it.

"When I got to the top, huffing and puffing, I told her, 'I love you most.' I know she got me up that hill."

Castro has begun training for the 2011 event.

"I personally think every woman should do it. It was an amazing time that I'll never forget."

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