PAULSBORO, N.J. — Cheryl Sierocinski DeLorenzo didn't know her exercise routine would have such an impact on her daughter, Leann DeLorenzo. And she wouldn't have guessed her athletic daughter would one day become her training partner.
But nearly two decades after the Paulsboro resident picked up running as a hobby, the two women are preparing for their first triathlon.
"She inspires me to continue," said the 61-year-old told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill. "I know she wants to beat me, but in a friendly way."
Among the 750 members of the Mullica Hill Women's Tri Club, women are bringing their daughters — or their mothers — into the sport, said Colleen Fossett, one of the group's founders. It's why the club added its Girls on the GLOW program for children, and a teen triathlon.
Sometimes, women in their 40s rope in their mothers. The club includes three generations of family members, and at least eight women over age 70. One told Fossett she didn't want to cheer for her daughter on the sidelines anymore. She wanted to do it, too.
"It's just such an empowering sisterhood," said Fossett, whose 17- and 18-year-old daughters run in relay races. "We get huge groups of women to do things."
Women say the competition is not only good for their physical health, it's good for their relationships, too.
Carleen O'Loughlin, 55, credits her daughter, a physical therapist, for saving her life. After watching Amanda Smith compete in her first triathlon, O'Loughlin wistfully told her she wished she could do the same.
"She said, 'Mom, you can,'" O'Loughlin recalled. "She signed me up." The two started competing together when Smith was 25 and O'Loughlin was twice her age. The women switched roles, as Smith urged her mother to get healthy.
"I really wasn't taking care of myself at all," O'Loughlin said. "She remembers when I was younger and she was a kid, I'd be doing cartwheels with her. I stopped all that just to be a mom."
Now, the women train together and look forward to annual events like Lower Township's Escape the Cape Triathlon, which includes a 12-foot jump into the Delaware Bay from the back of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. The pair have competed in the event since its first year.
"If it wasn't for her, I'm absolutely sure I wouldn't have ever done anything like this," O'Loughlin said. "I'd probably have so many more health problems ... I'm having fun. I feel like I'm going to live longer. I feel more alive, like I have more energy."
Her daughter, always the faster one, reminds her of the lessons she taught. After finishing a race, Smith comes back and encourages her mother to reach deep for the finish line. So she does.
"It's just a fantastic feeling to be able to run alongside your daughter," O'Loughlin said.
A few years ago, Denise Barr of Woolwich Township persuaded her then-teenage daughter, Julia Barr, to compete in the Tri the Wildwoods event with her as a relay team. It was their first race together.
"She didn't want to swim, and I can't run," said Barr, a 46-year-old with arthritis in both knees. "It was a kind of teammate relationship, which is funny, because she's my daughter."
After that, Barr lured her daughter out of bed for early-morning bike rides, and the pair began competing in entire races together, as Julia encouraged her to run.
"It's fun," Barr said. "It's not about how fast you are ... it's just about completing it."
For the DeLorenzo women, friendly competition keeps them pushing through the miles. Whenever 30-year-old Leann DeLorenzo is able to fit it into her busy schedule, she drives from her Philadelphia home to run five-mile loops around Paulsboro with her mom.
"I want to set a good example for her," Sieroncinski DeLorenzo said. "I want to show her you can still do things, and still try and get your abilities up to a level that you're happy with. I always told her to be a strong person, and be independent, and she does do that. She encourages me, too."
After their first 3K seven years ago, the two worked their way up to 26-mile marathons and 80-mile bike rides. At first, they decided to cross finish lines while holding hands. Then, they decided not to hold each other up. But they mostly run at the same pace. Last year, they finished the Philadelphia Marathon within two minutes of each other.
"I'm glad we can do it together," said DeLorenzo, a flight attendant and doctoral student, who also keeps a part-time job to pay for her athletic hobby. "It's a good bond in a different way. We've always been close. We can have an argument about something the night before, (and) we still get up and run together."
After a calf injury sidelined Sieroncinski DeLorenzo last year, as she was chewing up miles during a yearlong 1,008-mile running challenge, the two decided to cross train. Next, they will compete in the New Jersey State and Atlantic City triathlons. It's a daunting prospect for the mother, who doesn't much care for open water. But she plans to do it anyway.
"I don't want to disappoint my daughter, or disappoint myself," Sieroncinski DeLorenzo said. "She encourages me and believes me. Sometimes, when I get down about, 'Can I do this?' she's very encouraging and talks to me and will say, 'You know you can do this. Don't fail yourself.'