Tarbet Improves Triathlon Time

Desirée Keegan
i-Tri Girls competing in the triathlon were met by their peers at the finish line.
East Hampton High School junior Bella Tarbet sprints to the finish line.

Bella Tarbet was hot on the heels of Peter Sloniewsky.

Hopping off the bikes and readying to run, the two were in lockstep, but it was Sloniewsky, a first-time triathlon competitor who did not even prepare for the event, who came out on top in the 13-and-older category at Sag Harbor’s Long Beach on Saturday.

“I’ve never ran a triathlon before, so I’d say I did pretty solid,” the 14-year-old Setauket native from Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School said, smiling. “I was really stressed out after the biking, but when I saw she was 16, I was OK with losing to her if it did happen.”

He crossed the finish line in 36 minutes, 22.45 seconds. Tarbet clocked in just seconds behind him at 36:44.09.

The Springs resident said she was gassed.

“I was so tired,” Tarbet said. “I really wish I’d beaten him, but this was, by far, the best I’ve ever done it.”

But it was an 11-year-old girl who stole the show. Macy Putka, also in her very first crack at a triathlon, came in at 35:59.27 for first overall. Gigi Putka, 9, finished right behind her big sister in the 11-and-under age group, sixth overall, in 40:15.06.

“It was really fun to do a race with so many other girls, everyone was cheering for everyone else,” Macy said. “And it was fun to beat the boys.”

Gigi already has her sights set on winning the 10 and under race at the nationals.

“I’m ready,” she said.

The pair recently started cycling for Startrack, an organization that strives to get city kids to take up cycling. In her first race on the track, Macy finished second in the state.

“I knew that they’d do well, but was a bit surprised how fast they both raced,” their father Peter Putka said. “They are multi-sport athletes — they’ve played ice hockey in the city since they were little and my wife and I got them swimming early as well. It’s important for kids to be able to try things.”

Sloniewsky and Tarbet both swim competitively, and had no trouble navigating the rough, yet warm waters to begin the Hamptons Youth Triathlon July 13.

“I’ve been swimming since I was seven,” Sloniewsky said. “I did cross country last fall, but only ever ran for one school season.”

The Three Village Swim Club entrant will compete for the varsity team later this year.

Tarbet, who swims for the East Hampton Hurricanes, is also a runner, but said this time around she thought the biking helped her the most.

“When I run it’s tiring, and it’s kind of boring sometimes, but triathlons are exciting because you get to switch up between different stuff,” she said. “I love running and swimming pretty equally, and the bike is just something different. Together, it’s a lot of fun. And the weather is perfect.”

Tarbet said she wouldn’t have signed up if it wasn’t for Sharon McCobb, her cross country assistant coach who is the former president of Old Montauk Athletic Club and current athletic director and triathlon coach for i-Tri Girls, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls about believing in themselves and their peers.

“We had cross country practice yesterday and she asked me if I was coming,” Tarbet said. “I told her I might be too old for it, and she told me to come out. So here I am.”

The junior, competing in the event since she was 10, ran her fastest time in seven years. She said it all started when McCobb took her and a group of girls out to train for a Montauk triathlon when she supervised a club out of the YMCA East Hampton RECenter.

The coach said she had no doubt what Tarbet was capable of. The 16-year-old, who has two more years left in which she can race in the Hamptons Youth Triathlon, said the event was her warmup for the July 21 Montauk Lighthouse Triathlon.

“She does it for fun and she’s an amazing athlete — she’s strong, stays fit all year,” McCobb said. “She has a great attitude. She’s a competitor.”

The Bridgehampton National Bank-sponsored event benefited i-Tri. While Tarbet said she was never a part of it, many of her friends went through the program, so she knows a lot about it.

“I think it’s helped so many people,” she said. “I know so many girls who would have never done this if it wasn’t for i-Tri.”

Amanda Koszalka, 12, of Southampton was the first i-tri girl to cross the finish line, completing the course in 44:24.27. McCobb said some girls learned how to swim and ride a bike for the first time. She said she was elated seeing the girls crossing the finish line with smiles on their faces.

“I really believe in the program and I believe it does help these girls with their self-esteem, whatever place they’re getting,” McCobb said. “And I’ve seen these kids go on to do amazing things. It’s about completing it, enjoying it — accomplishing something you never thought you could.”

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i-Tri girls raise their arms in celebration of completing the triathlon.

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