When Yolanda and Tarus Nelson began their Strive2tri nonprofit several years ago, they were mostly looking to share the positive emotional and physical results their daughter Asia had experienced by participating in triathlons within their Prince George’s County community.
Although Asia was an active youth, participating in basketball and soccer, she was often unsatisfied with her level of participation in team sports. The parents hit on the idea of introducing her to triathlons.
The results were immediate, as Asia quickly found enjoyment.
“My first race, I will never forget,” said Asia, now an 18-year-old business student at Bowie State University. “It was such a different feeling from playing a sport and winning a game. It was the best feeling you could have.”
Seeing her success, the Nelsons were inspired to bring those experiences to their community. According to a recent county health survey, over 45 percent of youth and 70 percent of adults in Prince George’s County are overweight or obese.
Yolanda’s time as an educator in the county school system as well as Tarus’ military background and experience as a professional trainer made their focus on triathlon education for disadvantaged youths a natural fit.
They created the concept of Strive2tri, a multilevel triathlon program that featured youth from 7 to 17.
“It just seemed to happen — just evolve,” Yolanda said of the program’s early stages. “You know how some things just seem to fall into place, even if you don’t know where it is going to come from. We pretty much paid for the first two years out of pocket.”
Several years since the program’s inception, its success is evident.
“2016 was the first year we received the NFL Play 60 [grant] from the Baltimore Ravens, we began to get USA Triathlon Association grants and we received a grant from Prince George’s County,” Tarus said.
However, it was important to Yolanda that Strive2tri wasn’t just another summer program. She wanted to make sure that their programming was holistic.
“My husband and I thought this would be something awesome in our community, but we wanted to extend the program have follow up, welcome them back and provide other opportunities for them,” she said.
Tarus said the program has a successful cycle of employing members who have since gone off to college, such as siblings Carlos and Pam Salazar, who have participated for several years and return each summer for the program’s Splash N Dash Camp to work as assistant coaches.
All agree their greatest success has been found in the lives of their students and the families of their program participants.
“It’s a great program for everybody,” said Amari Washington, 10, a regular participant in Strive2tri who was introduced through a partnership the organization had with Barnaby Manor Elementary School via a free program as part of the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) Fund. “They inspire you to do your best, [to] keep trying and to never give up.”
Amari’s mother, Shashika Cope, agreed.
“You can just feel their energy of giving is coming from a sincere place,” she said. “I as a parent am so grateful and so thankful. I wish that we could take this worldwide so that everyone could see the work that’s being done.”
While not yet thinking globally, Tarus Nelson said that expansion is indeed in their future.
“We firmly believe that with the appropriate partners and sponsors, we can take this nationwide,” he said.