‘Grow more confident’: Ironhawk Juniors teaches girls athleticism and confidence

More than one hundred young girls laced up their shoes, grabbed their swimming suits and strapped on their helmets for the Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon.

OMAHA, Neb. —

On Sunday morning, more than one hundred young girls laced up their shoes, put on their swimming suits and strapped on their helmets for the Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon.

It’s an eight-week course teaching 8 to 14-year-olds the ins and outs of being a multi-sport athlete.

“Every week, they swam, they biked, or they ran,” said Erin Sullivan, director of Ironhawk Juniors.

Building up their endurance, in order to get them across the finish line.

“We prepare them for today where they did a short little mini-triathlon, which many of them have never, ever done before,” she said.

Sullivan said through Ironhawk Juniors free program, they provided training and equipment for more than 100 girls.

“Fifty percent of them don’t have a bike and so if they came today, that was one of our rules. They took the bike home with them. It’s theirs to keep. The bike, the helmet, the swimsuit, everything,” Sullivan said.

Through biking, swimming and running, the non-profit teaches girls how to grow as an athlete and a person.

“When I first started, I was really shy. So, I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, or I just wanted to stay in my own little bubble,” said Bella.

Bella’s been an Ironhawk Junior since the program began in 2018, using every season to branch out and meet someone new.

“It helps girls get to know each other and just make new friends,” she said.

While encouraging girls like Eva, to simply be themselves.

“It’s helped me grow more confident,” Eva said.

Her mom and volunteer, Nichole Van Eepoel, said she’s seen the program shatter the societal norm of what a girl is supposed to look like.

“This helps girls learn that, that’s not a real thing. There is no rules on what you should look like in order to be athletic. There’s no rules on what you need to wear, what brand you should wear, what you should look like,” Van Eepoel said.

Giving each girl the same opportunity, no matter their appearance or background.

“You see girls from all walks of life, all different ethnicities, different countries of origin, and again, just a great representative program for our city,” said Paco Fuentes, there cheering his granddaughter on.

This year’s season is over, if interested in joining visit ironhawkjuniors.org, a registration link will be posted in the Spring.

by Kale Searcy, KETV

Updated: 6:29 PM CDT Jul 31, 2022

Inspirational Story – Erin Sullivan

Published by USA Triathlon

I share my Power Within every day by encouraging others to discover their own power. My power is their power. – Erin Sullivan, IHJ President

She never thought she could do it. A triathlon, that is. She knew she was a decent swimmer, and she knew how to ride a bike. She eventually took up running so she could complete a marathon, and ultimately found herself here, on the start line of a triathlon.

Erin Sullivan inspires others to take part in triathlon. She delights in sharing that feeling of possibility with those around her, so they can take on new challenges and achieve their goals. 

That’s how Erin has always been. Of all the races in which she’s competed, the ones she enjoys the most are when she’s racing with a new triathlete — staying alongside them through the whole course, regardless of the finishing place or time.

She watches as members of the Omaha, Nebraska-based Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon Club — a free program for girls ages 8-14 — cross the finish line of a local race. She’s elated for these kids, proud of the positive impact she’s had on their lives as a volunteer. Her heart swells when she thinks about their journey; how many of them could never have imagined completing a triathlon before they were offered the training, resources and support to do so.

Erin often looks back on the athletes who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to accomplish a goal: The person who was afraid of water and just swam his first 25 yards in a pool, or the person who never imagined riding a bike more than once around the block who just completed her first 10-mile ride. It’s a reminder for Erin that we all build each other up, and that you never know who you may be inspiring each time you step out the door to swim, bike or run.

She smiles as she reminiscences, hoping she can continue to inspire the kids, race volunteers and parents for years to come.

The Hunt Is On!

Here are a few things to remember as you participate in the IHJ Virtual Scavenger Hunt:

  1. The Scavenger Hunt begins Friday, August 7 and ends on Sunday, August 16.
  2. There are 7 items on the list for you to “find”. Your goal is to find at least 5 of the things on the list. Be creative. Think outside of the box. What does find water mean to you?
  3. Take a photo of yourself or have someone else take a photo of you with the found item. You can then email the photos to ironhawkjuniors@gmail.com or upload them to the Ironhawk Juniors Facebook event page. Click on the unicorn below to go directly to our Facebook event page to post your photos.
  4. If you are unable to take photos, no worries, just send an email and let us know which items you have found.

Here’s the list – remember, your goal is to have fun and find at least 5 but try for all 7:   

  1. Find some water
  2. Pedal around (helmet required, no bike necessary)
  3. Run. Skip. Jump
  4. Find a unicorn
  5. Find the Ironhawk Junior Logo
  6. Encourage someone with a sign
  7. Find a healthy snack

Ironhawk Juniors Virtual Scavenger Hunt

We miss you. We miss our weekly sessions. We miss your wonderful t-shirts and your smiles and your awesomeness.

We hope that you are getting outside and practicing your biking and running (and swimming if you can). We just could not let the summer pass without having an event. An event that does not require any special equipment. You can all do it. We are calling our event: The Ironhawk Juniors Virtual Scavenger Hunt

If you have not already signed up for our Scavenger Hunt, you still have time. The Hunt officially begins this Friday, August 7. The deadline to register is Wednesday, August 5. You can register here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T35WXG2

Our Girls – Taking It Further!

A few of the IHJ girls are taking triathlon into their own hands amid the pandemic.

Chloe participated in a triathlon event in Ankeny, IA. Chloe is 9 years old and has quite a few more years with IHJ!

Finnley & Abbie are two other IHJ athletes and decided to create their own triathlon – Summer Fun Triathlon. Finnley mapped a route, swimming the lake and bike/run the neighborhood in Plattsmouth. She emailed participants, collected registrations, gathered all the supplies and even made medals!! The event had about 20 participants, as well as neighbor volunteers. It was open to all ages, even her toddler sister participated.

These three young ladies did not have the option to participate in the IHJ program due to COVID-19, but they found a way to inspire others and stay active in running, biking and swimming. Way to turn a negative into a positive gals!!

IHJ is very proud of you all and all of our girls who are practicing their running, biking, and/or swimming. We cannot wait to see you next year!

2020 Season Cancelled

The Ironhawk Juniors Board has decided to cancel the 2020 Season due to the current pandemic. We are saddened to cancel the 2020 season but it’s the right thing to do to help get our community back on track. We are staying hopeful though and currently planning an awesome end of summer event. Stay healthy and active and we will send more communication soon!!

Please see the full letter below:

IHJ Program Update Re: COVID-19

Hello IHJ Athletes, Parents, Volunteers, Supporters-

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the Douglas County Health Department, we are forced to cancel the bike and swim lessons originally scheduled for April and May. We are saddened we won’t get to help with these lessons, but your safety and well-being are the priorities of the Ironhawk Juniors Tri Club. We are also going to put registration on hold for now, as we wait to learn more from local, state and national health leaders. We hope you are finding ways to stay active! We will post any important information here and on our website. Don’t forget to wash your hands and practice social distancing!! #bekind #empoweringgirlsthrutriathlon #bebrave

COVID-19: Omaha Community Assistance

For those who may need extra help at this time, the Omaha community has many resources for parents and children. Below are some of those resources:

Together Omaha

  • Pantry hours effective immediately and until further notice: 
    • Monday-Thursday 12pm-3pm
    • Friday 12pm-2pm
  • Pantry boxes will be distributed from the dock located at the backside of the parking lot. Staff will fill out the USDA waiver form to eliminate personal contact. 

Project Hope Food Pantry

  • 6201 North 60th Street, 68104
  • Call for hours: (402) 452-7649

St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry

  • 2101 Leavenworth Street, 68102
  • Call for hours: (402) 341-1689

Omaha Public Schools – Meals

  • OPS Teacher Administrative Center
  • 3215 Cuming Street, 68131
  • Call for hours/information: (531) 299-0220


State Farm Offers Free Sack Lunches

  • 2504 S. 13th Street, Omaha, NE
  • Free sack lunches to children and families in need. An Uncrustable, bag of chips, and an orange will be provided according to the release
  • Tuesday, March 17th and Thursday, March 19th from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m.

Youth Emergency Services Outreach Center

  • 1-3pm Monday-Friday
  • Youth will be able to get boxed or sacked meals. 
  • Outreach staff will assist youth not available at those times by appointment.
  • 2679 Farnam Street, Suite 205, Omaha, NE 68131 
  • 402-345-5187