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Istra Bauza will tell anyone who will listen about how triathlon changed her life. But then she’ll turn the conversation around: Have you ever thought about doing a triathlon? Would you like to? How about you join me for a run this weekend?
As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, Bauza was always active and always outdoors. That changed over the years, as Bauza moved to Houston, Texas, got married, and had two children. In her late 30s, Bauza found herself struggling in more ways than one.
“I was living a sedentary lifestyle and was suffering from anxiety,” Bauza said of her lowest point. “I had low self-esteem. I felt tired and unmotivated all the time.” Nothing seemed to get her out of her funk—she just felt stuck.
When her husband took up cycling, then triathlon, she packed the kids in the car and went to watch him race. But something else caught her eye: “There were women my age competing and having fun,” said Bauza. “It all seemed quite exciting.”
The idea of doing a triathlon was intriguing, but whenever she took a step toward making it a reality, self-doubt came screaming back. “I was terrified of the swim and of falling during the bike race,” said Bauza. “I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself.” Her route to the starting line was two steps forward, one step back, until she finally found a way to sprint ahead: a local race called Tri Girl Tri. The all-women, beginner-friendly race removed a lot of the intimidation many women face when starting out in triathlon.
Training for the race gave Bauza a purpose each day. The race allowed her to break through so many of the limits she had put on herself. When she crossed the finish line, she realized she was outside of her comfort zone for the first time in years—and she liked it. With every race thereafter, she felt stronger, more capable.
Bauza could have focused on self-improvement. Certainly, she could have channeled her energy into getting stronger or faster. But all she could think about was how good triathlon made her feel, and how she could help other people feel that way, too.
In 2015, Bauza became a triathlon and swimming coach, specializing in female triathletes. She also joined Bel Inizio, a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged women develop self-confidence and life skills through fitness and nutrition. The program offers female veterans overcome challenges—from substance abuse to homelessness—by training for a 5K. The name of the organization, which is Italian for “beautiful beginning,” resonated with Bauza from the very beginning.
“I wanted to empower other women and show them how setting goals in endurance sports can build resilience, increase self-esteem and self-efficacy,” said Bauza. “Bel Inizio shows each woman that they matter. We help them prepare for the ultimate race—the race for a better life.”
The experience has awakened Bauza’s passion for community service. In addition to continued work with Bel Inizio, Bauza volunteers with the Girl Scouts of San Jancinto, where she works with at-risk girls aged 11-17 on topics such as peer pressure, sexual harassment, and dating violence. She also co-founded a running club at a local elementary school as a way to plant a seed for an active lifestyle in a younger population, knowing sport can be a critical tool for confidence and resiliency.
Bauza no longer feels stuck in her life. In fact, she feels unstoppable. It’s a complete reversal of where she was ten years ago. When she reflects on how far she’s come, she feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude, not just for her own growth, but for her ability to help others grow as well.
“Triathlon was a catalyst, not only for my health, but for discovering my passion for social and community work,” said Bauza. “By encountering and overcoming challenges while training and racing, we become more resilient and confident. This sport allows you to push the limits of what is comfortable, and rewards you with empowerment and resilience—this is what we need in everyday life.”