Three sisters, one goal
Women-only triathlon to rally for local charities

by Stacy Falk

Don’t be alarmed when you see a beautiful ladybug wearing a frilly tutu while riding down the river trail on a bright orange cruiser bike this weekend. The third annual “Three Sisters” local fund-raising event, aka “The 5/5/5,” makes its return on June 3. The event will feature a 5K run/walk, a 5K cruiser ride and a five-station silly obstacle course, according to Lisa Nielsen, one of the three sisters who founded the event.

The women-only event will kick off this Saturday at 9 a.m. at Memorial Park, and this year, the triathlon will benefit the Durango Boys and Girls Club, the La Plata County Humane Society and the Holly House.

And while costumes and cruisers may seem like a regular sight in Durango, the 5/5/5 is not your average event. It’s all about lending a hand to those in need and inspiring women to try something new in a fun environment, says Nielsen.

The three sisters behind the event, though not biologically related, were born when Lisa, her sister in-law Shelley Nielsen and friend Crissy Coniglio shared a vision while on a hike near their home base in Durango.

“That was the defining moment for when we started calling ourselves the three sisters,” said Lisa. “We were all sitting on a rock in the Animas and took a picture of all our feet just above the water.”

From that point on, the sisters wasted no time. With the goal of inspiring women to live active, healthy lifestyles, the three also wanted to raise money for programs and organizations that make a difference in everyday people’s lives.

In 2009, the sisters made their vision a reality by hosting a women’s half marathon in Durango with entry fees benefiting kids with cancer. “We strive to raise money for a good cause through a fun, athletic and noncompetitive event,” said Shelley.

With the success of the first year bringing in around $1,000, the following year the sisters decided that they would each choose a different organization to contribute the funds. Shelley picked the Women’s Resource Center in Durango. Coniglio chose the Baja Club, an organization that helps build homes in Mexico, and Lisa went with Castaway Kids, a charity group that funds educational opportunities for children in Mexico.

“We want to spread the wealth and not limit the donations to the same organization every year,” said Lisa. “This year it’s all local, but next year it might not be.”

Coniglio said she picked the Holly House this year because she is touched by what the group does in the community. The Holly House, a branch of Community Connections, is a care center for adults with special needs that assists in everyday tasks and activities.

“A young couple adopted a 72-year-old man as their son that they met volunteering at the Holly House,” said Coniglio. “By raising money for these organizations, we feel like we are able to help.”

The structure of the event itself is also not something set in stone and can change year to year. From the original marathon to the current triathlon, which even includes a pie eating contest, there’s always something new. Nielsen said she hopes to double the participation from last year.

“Based on the women that have pre-registered, we’re expecting at least 50 participants,” said Lisa. “But people are welcome to show up the morning of the event.”

Participants are asked to fund raise or donate the entry fee of $30 but are encouraged to raise as much as possible. Last year, the event raised just more than $2,000, and this year the sisters set a goal for $3,000. All of the money is donated equally among the organizations.

Shelly said that because the event is still in the early stages of establishing itself, it’s not uncommon for folks to be in the dark about what’s going on when they see a flock of women in silly costumes running around town. There has been little to no press on the event up until now, added Lisa, and most of the advertising has been simply word of mouth.

“We don’t want it to grow so fast that we can’t handle it,” Lisa said. “But people certainly talk about it, and we will always get more people involved as it grows.”

Coniglio said that their success has also contributed to the different personalities the sisters bring to the table. “Lisa keeps us on task with her OCD,” she said jokingly. “She has a file cabinet in her file cabinet.”

And not only are the sisters volunteering their time to make it happen, they seem to go above and beyond. This year, they hand-stamped dozens of silver pendants for home-made necklaces with this years theme, “be true”, for all the participants to represent the occasion.

“We are constantly motivating each other to follow through with our ideas,” said Shelley. “And we are always open to new ideas.”

Sarah St. John, a counselor at Durango High School, said that she discovered the event last year via an email link from a friend and didn’t hesitate to sign up. St. John said she really didn’t know what to expect but had so much fun she plans to participate again this year. “People thought we were lunatics out there.”

For St. John, the fund-raiser is special because it brings out a variety of individuals from many backgrounds and ages. “The opportunity to meet and connect with so many amazing women in the community is incredible,” said St. John. “It’s a super positive experience and I am excited to help spread the word and help get more people involved.”

Although it’s a women-only event, it wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated volunteers, most of whom are husbands and boyfriends of the gals who partake. The volunteers help at the aid stations throughout the course and coordinate the post triathlon pampering party. Lisa said the party, also located at Memorial Park, will offer healthy food and snacks, free yoga and stretching instruction and free chair massages.

Awards will be presented for the most flare, best effort and best recruiter for the event. There will also be door prizes and giveaways provided by numerous local businesses. “I am really psyched to support a wild women’s event for such a good cause,” St. John said. ”It’s only going to get better.” •



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