Last year, Dorchester’s Rene Haile and then-downtown resident Julian Cooney were in their seventh – and last – month of serving on grand jury duty when Haile leaned over one day and asked Cooney if he was interested in competing in a triathlon.
It was one of the first conversations they had had, and it featured a puzzling question in an odd location. Cooney was hesitant, but Haile was persistent. Soon enough, he was willing to give it a try. Now, a year later, Cooney is not only a loyal member of the new Dot Tanks Triathlon team, but he’s also a new resident of Dorchester.
“[My wife and I] didn’t know anything about Dorchester,” Cooney said. “We were looking to move out of a condo and into a house. We were looking at other neighborhoods and in the suburbs. When I got on the triathlon team, we kept meeting more people on the team and from the community and found it was a really great neighborhood. We were very excited to be able to move here.”
And he was also excited to take up a sport he’d never tried before. Though he was into fitness, the tripartite barrage of swimming, running, and biking was very new.
“I couldn’t even swim at first,” he said. “I took a few swimming lessons from the group…I got a wetsuit the day before the race and got in Houghton’s Pond to try it out. I had a total freak out…but I ended up getting in the water and got through it.”
Haile’s pitch, even during grand jury service, is not uncommon, other Dot Tankers mused. Since taking up triathlons six years ago, she has been pushing others to give it a shot. But it was only last September that the small group of “recruits” – while on the way to a triathlon in Buzzards Bay – decided they should form a neighborhood team.
Laura Papia, René Haile, and Molly Warner after a triathlon last year in Amesbury.
“We hadn’t even gotten to our first race, but we were adamant about this team,” said a laughing Haile, who lives in the West of Washington neighborhood with her husband and kids, her biggest fans at every race. “The camaraderie was very real. I was thinking that the one thing that’s better than doing a triathlon is doing a triathlon with several friends.”
Haile said they don’t do the full professional triathlons, but rather the ‘Sprint’ races that include a one-quarter mile swim, a 12- to-15-mile bike ride, and then a 5K run.
“My pitch to everyone has been that you don’t have to be amazing to finish a sprint triathlon,” she said. “It’s not as daunting. As long as you’re relatively fit, I think you can do it. That’s how I’ve convinced people that they should give it a try.”
So far, the Tanks have a new logo created by Dorchester artist Jesse Haley and about a dozen members who have signed up and completed at least one triathlon. Many of them had never attempted one until Haile brought them in the fold, but the fitness and the friendship has been life changing.
“I’ve lived in Dorchester for 13 years and…I had a lot of friends, but I hadn’t really formed any new friendships in a while,” said Andy Papia, who took third place in his age category at a recent triathlon. “I started with the Tanks, and it opened up…It shrinks the gap between you and others. As you get older and have kids and work, it gets harder to maintain friendships and maintain fitness, and in this you get both of those together.”
Added member Tamra Kim: “The community appeal is a big aspect especially post-Covid and how easy it is to just stay in your own world now. It’s an easy on ramp to meet people. When people are engaging in an activity they are choosing to do, it’s much different.”
There’s also the challenge of trying to improve at three very difficult sports. Cooney said training for a purpose has helped him to go further with his physical fitness regimen.
“Working out just to work out gets boring and you may not push yourself so hard,” he said. “When there’s a race coming in four weeks, it’s like you realize you need to kick your training in gear. Having a goal on the horizon is helpful and having a team to train beside inspires you.”
Haile said they’ve had recent success at their races and have had more people show interest in the group. Though there are no bylaws to the organization, and no set criteria for membership, she hopes the team can flourish throughout the neighborhood and within competitions.
“I hope it gets some more momentum and more people feel like they can try it out,” she said.
To find out about Dot Tanks or get in touch with them, send a direct message to their Instagram page (dot_tri_tanks).