The Girls’ Club
Turning moms into killer athletes
By Sally Friedman

By now, Colleen Fossett and Lydia DelRosso are used to strangers stopping them in the grocery store or while they’re walking down the street.

The two Mullica Hill women haven’t become local legends by any typical means. They’re triathletes – and superstars to hundreds of South Jersey women.

“One of the nicest things that happens to us is people stop us to tell us they’re proud of what we’ve done for so many women and for the town of Mullica Hill,” says Fossett.

Fossett and DelRosso, together with Michelle Powell and Maureen Brigham, are founders of Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club (MHWTC), an organization that empowers women through the sport of triathlon and works to make the community a better place to work, play and live.

Their work started eight years ago with an idea fueled by several cups of coffee and the foursome’s shared love of triathlons – a demanding sport that involves swimming, cycling and running, one right after the other, over various distances.

Founders Colleen Fossett and Lydia DelRosso.

Within six months, the founding four were joined by 120 eager women. Today, the all-female club boasts more than 900 members of all ages who have trained for and competed in thousands of triathlons together, and that number is still growing, says Fossett.

Though Powell and Brigham have since moved on to other pursuits, Fossett and DelRosso have stayed on, juggling their personal lives as athletes, wives and mothers with their professional lives as pharmaceutical sales representatives.

“If anybody had told us in 2009 when we sat in that restaurant brainstorming that all of this would happen, we probably wouldn’t have believed it,” she says. “We were flying by the seat of our pants.”
Fossett points out that while the fitness aspects of MHWTC membership are certainly rewarding, there’s another big benefit.

The club is a nonprofit organization that supports causes like bike safety and anti-bullying, and it also provides scholarship help and need-based stipends to local groups. This year, the group is working to destigmatize mental illness, an issue that Fossett says has inspired club members and its leaders. This club is about far more than helping women find their inner athlete – it touches and motivates body and soul.

That motivating spirit is evident during every training session and event, where the mood is more about cooperation than competitiveness, says Fossett.

“Women are very good at coming together,” she says. “Yes, it takes commitment, but there are dozens of other women to cheer you on. We can’t emphasize enough that you don’t have to be an athlete to succeed in this.”

The tri club, says Fossett, gives members all the tools, resources, training plans, mentorship, education and support necessary for the women to meet their personal fitness goals. Group training sessions are held almost daily during the triathlon season, which typically runs from April through late fall, and might consist of a sunrise track workout or 10-mile bike ride followed by happy hour at a local watering hole.

“Whether it’s getting off the couch or completing your first triathlon, the club will help you reach your goal,” she says. “We empower each other, look out for one another and lift each other up to create positive change in our own lives and the lives around us.”

Former Mullica Hill resident Denise Conover saw first-hand how the group changes women’s lives when she joined two years ago.

She says that like many women, she was accustomed to focusing on everyone but herself.

“I wasn’t angry about it; it was just the way my life was,” says Conover, who is the mother of six in a second marriage/blended family and the owner of a cleaning company. “But I finally decided it was time to do something for myself.”

She took a giant leap and joined MHWTC, a move she says gave her “so many feelings. I wanted to feel proud of myself. I wanted to get past my memories of hating gym class back in school. And most of all, I really wanted to feel healthy.”

After training for and competing in a number of triathlons, Conover knew she wanted to speak to other women who might be on the fence about taking the membership plunge themselves.

“I stood up at an orientation meeting, and I told them the truth: I had finally done something just for me, after 25 years of not doing that,” she says.

“And do you know what happened?” she told the audience. “I made friends. Not my kids’ friends’ parents…not my husband’s friends’ wives…not my neighbors…not my clients…not my employees. I made friends that were just friends – friends that are friends with me because of me. That was a blessing I never expected. My life will never be the same, because I walked through a new door and accepted a challenge.”

The club has also opened its doors to young girls through a program named Girls on the G.L.O.W., which is open to all girls in first through sixth grades.

“G.L.O.W. stands for grow, learn, offer and work, which is what the girls are expected to do at each and every practice,” says Fossett. “We want every girl to discover her inner glow that comes from achieving a goal – as an individual and as a team – through effort, determination and cooperation.”

The program welcomes the young athletes to fun-filled activities that cover topics like goal setting, positive attitude, community and nutrition, and the calendar also includes opportunities for mother/daughter quality time.

Noreen Hickman says the opportunity to bond with her adult daughter and granddaughter – already a member of the G.L.O.W. program – ended up giving her a new outlook on life. At age 63, she joined the tri club when the generations behind her led the way, reminding her that yes, she could do this.

“At first I thought, ‘Never.’ I looked at the new kind of bike with skinny little wheels, and that was scary enough. But I also had a real fear of the swimming part,” says Hickman.

“It was tough at first, but I stuck with it. And I’m really very proud that when I did my first Sprint Triathlon in 2014, I won for my age group. There were only two of us,” she quips, “but it was still a win.”

May 2017
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