When I was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma at the age of 25 I could have never guessed just how much my life would change in four short years.
I was at a point in my life where I was craving inspiration. Working in radiology for two years, I was thinking forward to the next potential step. It came as a blessing, disguised as a curse. Of course, no one wants to hear that they have cancer. I would never wish that upon anyone, but it becomes just a little bit easier when you make it your life mission to do something about it. It’s something I’ll think about every day for the rest of my life regardless, so I might as well take some action on the subject.
Since starting Tri Sirena my world has been completely turned upside-down. I have met some amazing people, had very rewarding times and faced many fears and obstacles.
I have a message to deliver, a story. What no-one tells you is how hard it is to put yourself out there in front of hundreds, or thousands of people to judge and/or criticize you on your quest.
Getting diagnosed was not my only reason for starting Tri Sirena. The basic lack of knowledge and scarcity of tools to prevent this from happening had me dumbfounded. Melanoma is the number one cancer killer for women my age (29) and there I was, outside for hours in my tanks and shorts thinking nothing of it for years. Of course, I knew that there would be a risk of skin cancer, but I thought it would happen when I was 70 years old and I would just have to get something scrapped off my back every once in a while. When you are in your twenties this doesn’t really make you want to alter your lifestyle. It really wasn’t a motivating factor to make me cover up. But seriously, the NUMBER ONE CANCER KILLER?! Now that is something I would have listened to.
Determined not to allow my diagnosis to stop me from participating in the sport I love, I began to look for performance gear that would keep me protected. No such luck. In order to stay fully covered during training and my Ironman competition, I pieced together an outfit made up of a tri top tank, cooling shrug, cycling capris, and high compression socks. Not to mention constantly reapplying sunscreen to fill in the gaps - wrists, that lower back strip when your kit rides up, and the space between my socks and capris. Why not make one top and one bottom to keep you cool and protected?
After running up against a wall trying to find women's performance gear that was both protective and didn’t obstruct my performance, I started talking to anyone and everyone. After kicking around the idea of woman’s performance gear that focuses on functionality, safety, and fashion with friends, family, online forums, and social media it made me realize that there was a real need. I dug into as much information as I could get my hands on and attended trade shows where I learned about fabrics and printing techniques. I quickly realized I can do this, but where do I start?
I started at square one. I had drawn sketches of what the first fully custom outfit would look like about 100 times. Another thing no one tells you is how to make this dream become a reality you can share with the world. There is no step by step guide for who to call and what factory to use and where to get your fabric… what even is dye sublimation anyway?
Next came the logo and branding. I have always been fascinated by sirens and knew that they would have a starring role at Tri Sirena. For those of you that don’t know, sirens are the female greek mythology creatures that would lure sailors in with songs and then…well...eat them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone eating men, but I do love the idea of beautiful mermaid like creatures that will also literally eat you for breakfast. After all, we are athletes with competitive natures, whether it be with the person next to you or with yourself.
Now for fun part - let’s make some amazing apparel! I was fortunate to find amazing people to join in and we started to bring the brand to life. Our priorities for the Midnight Mermaid Multi-Sport Top and Leggings were:
1. Provide UPF 50 protection
2. Offer full coverage
3. Include the latest technology in cooling materials
4. Flattering to the female form
5. Fashion forward design
6. Meet performance standards and be comfortable at the same time
7. Follow strict quality guidelines
With our priorities set, my team and I started the factory hunt while creating different patterns and color combinations. After a year and a half of development, many samples, and numerous test runs and rides in the hot Florida sun, I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally share this product with you. Why did it take a year and a half? Quality takes time and since it is so important to us, we buckled in for the long haul. Everything had to be just right and of course it also had to look amazing on women of all shapes and sizes!
If I can share one thing with you about the Tri Sirena journey is when you start to build your dream, you must stay focused and have patience. It’s a lot like training for a race. My passion and vision for starting Tri Sirena has only gotten stronger as time has passed. I see athletes at events becoming more aware of sun protection and supporting what we’re trying to do. It is an absolute honor to do everything I can to protect this amazing group of people as I build a brand they can rely on.
This is the sport that made me believe in myself! I did my first race when I was 20 years old with a rusty road bike that had been in my family for a long time. My chain popped off about 100 feet into my bike ride. This was absolutely humiliating, but many people offered help and I trucked along. Every person cheered for one another, everyone said hello. It was such an inspiring environment, you almost forgot about how much your legs hurt. I knew that this was something I wanted to be involved in for a long time. There is something about this sport and this group of people that I hold very close to my heart. I knew this was a community I wanted to support from the beginning. Tri Sirena’s vision is to reduce the skin cancer risk in all outdoor athletes while helping them swim faster, ride harder, run farther, and look great doing it.
Written by Tri Sirena's CEO and Co-Founder, Stefani Schuetz
Have you had a blessing that was disguised as a curse at first? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.