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Champagne never tasted finer for Kacie Cope than the day she finished her first triathlon.
As a new member of the Charlotte YWCA's Y-Dub Tri Club this summer, Cope competed in the Ramblin' Rose Triathlon in Rock Hill and shared a glass of the bubbly with her classmates in a traditional post-race celebration.
Admitting she had struggled with confidence, participating in the Y-Dub Tri Club and competing in the triathlon gave her a new respect for herself, for exercise, and a commitment to something so extreme.
Cope will be among several residents competing in the Ramblin' Rose's Charlotte event Sept. 25 at the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center.
Cope, 24, says she couldn't complete a mile run when she was in high school. About two years ago, she started attending exercise classes at the YWCA on Park Road.
Last spring, she spotted a flier at the facility advertising the organization's triathlon training program.
From the beginning, she was skeptical about her ability to complete an endurance race that included swimming, biking, and running.
The Y-Dub Tri Club is filled with similar stories. The program is about empowering and encouraging women. The club trains three days a week, one each for a triathlon's three components.
Instructor Jody Frazier says the club's first session, held last summer, drew eight women. A year later, the program has more than 30 participants, and 27 will compete in next week's Ramblin' Rose event.
"(Kacie) struggled, but she got faster and better," Frazier said. "She was here all the time. She did the best she could. She's appreciative. She's the girl next door."
A couple of classmates nicknamed Cope "Smiley" because of her positive outlook.
"I'm always smiling," Cope said. "Even in the pool, which is not the best place to be smiling."
Approaching the Rock Hill race, Cope's goal was simple: to finish. Her mother, father and brother were so proud of her commitment that they drove from Pittsburgh to attend the race.
Of 250 participants, Cope finished 117th, with a time of 1 hour, 8 minutes and 10 seconds. The next day, she started training for the Charlotte race.
She was hooked.
Attending that July training session for the first time were Heather-John Montero and Jennifer Patterson, whose reasons for joining were vastly different.
Like Cope, Patterson wanted to exercise and find something that would challenge her. Montero, 34, says she was hoping to shed some post-partum weight after giving birth to her second child in April.
Patterson, 42, says she couldn't run for longer than a minute before starting the training, but now can easily conquer a two-mile jaunt. Exerting herself, however, led to an ankle stress fracture that she will be nursing up to the time of the Charlotte Ramblin' Rose.
Montero and a co-worker agreed to start the triathlon training together. The friend had to break her commitment after an automobile accident, but Montero pushed on.
"I wanted to be part of a group of people who would hold me accountable," Montero said, "because if I left it to myself, I would be at home on my couch still with the baby weight, and probably putting more weight on me as well."