Susan Hayden has a deep passion and love for multisport and triathlon. While she has competed in every distance of triathlon from sprint to finishing 8 Ironman events, beginning as an unknown participant and progressing to be a member of the International Triathlon Union Team USA, it is not her athletic gifts for which she has received the South Midwest Region's Hall of Fame award.
Honoring Susan with the Hall of Fame award is a testament to the power of sharing and applying her passion to a pressing community need. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, she (along with fellow triathlete Pat Fellows) had a deep desire to improve the lives and health of children and families in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast area. The Gulf States region, including the USAT South Mid West member states, is in the “red zone” for childhood and adult obesity. As a wife and mother of two daughters, Susan knew that mothers were the primary caregivers, car-poolers, and family leisure activity directors. She believed that reaching women would be an effective strategy for fostering a culture of activity, setting the stage for lifelong change in children, and an effective means of reversing the childhood obesity trend.
In 2007, triathlon was hardly on the community radar and there were no all-women events within driving distance to her area. Armed with her love of triathlon and desire to improve her community, she went to work creating an "low barrier to entry" event, targeted specifically at female first-time and novice triathletes. This event, the Rocketchix Triathlon, was created through her efforts. Rocketchix was an immediate success, with 140 registrants at the first race and has seen an increase in numbers to sell out the in the last 4 summer races. Rocketchix has seen 4,500 women cross the finish line, elevating the visibility of the sport, increasing USAT membership, providing economic benefit to triathlon related business and allowed scores of women to redefine themselves.
Susan saw to it that funds generated through Rocketchix were deposited into a Rocketkidz Foundation account and plowed back into the community. Money from the foundation now goes to sponsor two children’s Rocketkidz events each year–one for beginners with parents and "floaties" and one with various distances that the children complete under their own power. Between the two events, over 1,500 kids have crossed the finish line.
Through her leadership and stewardship, RFK financial and tactical resources are provided to attract, grow, support and launch other programming aimed at improving community health. These initiatives provided swim clinics for 90 inner city youth; a special program funding triathlon coaching for 15 disabled children including a Downs syndrome racer, supporting the start of GOTR (for girls), and launching Let me Run (for boys).
Beginning in 2011, the Rocketkidz Foundation outgrew its status as just a fund. Susan shepherded the RKF fund through the arduous process of becoming a stand along, full fledged non-profit and through her leadership as Chair, has received from the IRS approval as a stand-alone 501c3.
With the Hall of Fame award, the South Midwest region recognizes her passion for triathlon to improve the health and lives of women, children and families in south Louisiana and for supporting and fostering grassroots action and programming to address pressing community needs.