Charity-Oriented Sports Training Program Triggers Love Affairs: Why Is Team In Training Such A ‘Hot Dating Pool?’

By Philip Ross on April 17, 2013 3:17 PM EDT

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Charity-Oriented Sports Training Program Triggers Love Affairs: Why Is Team In Training Such A ‘Hot Dating Pool?’

The first thing 44-year-old Trygve Cossette noticed about his wife, Alison Cossette, was the fleshy part of her back legs. "I was running behind her," he said. "My wife has very attractive calves."

After a couple of weeks, Alison Cossette (née McCarthy), 41, began to have butterfly-in-the-stomach feelings for her fellow runner. "When I first met Trygve [pronounced "trig-vah"], I refused to say his name out loud because I was convinced I was going to say it wrong," she said. "Everyone just called him 'T'."

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When Alison Cossette relayed her feelings for Trygve Cossette to a co-captain of her running group, she responded, "That would by my favorite Team In Training hook up ever!"

'Prescreen For Dating'

Trygve Cossette and Alison Cossette met eight years ago through the New York City chapter of Team In Training, a get-in-shape program sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or LLS, a charity that funds services for cancer patients and blood cancer research. Team In Training operates in cities all across the U.S. and provides coaching for half marathons, marathons and triathlons. Some chapters of Team In Training, like the New York City branch, draw hundreds of participants - one trainee said as many as 150 people can show up for a single practice.

According to the co-captain of Alison Cossette's running group, Team In Training, or TNT, was known among its members as "team in dating." Once she became aware of the program's unsanctioned moniker, Alison Cossette began to notice that TNT was actually a "hot dating pool," brimming with "single, generous and healthy" people.

"That's a pretty good prescreen for dating, right?" she mused. The couple now lives in Seattle with their two kids.

The runner said that while TNT is not a superhighway to marriage, the "cross-pollination" is unequivocally there. Peter Startz, 35, also met his fianceé, 38-year-old Megan Buecher, through New York's TNT in June 2008. Before his fianceé, Startz had never really dated a runner before, and the fact that Buecher was doing a marathon was a "huge plus" for him.

Startz, who now works for LLS as the TNT's marketing coordinator and also a marathon coach, said he felt a connection with Buecher from the get-go. "She laughed at some of my jokes," he said. "I don't know if they were good or bad, but she laughed!"

Dating in big cities like New York is basically jumping on a trampoline with only a few springs intact; you might be O.K. for a time, but jump too high or too hard and you'll end up on the ground with a broken tailbone. Or it can be like a quickly revolving door; one date, a few texts, then silence. And repeat.

"On to the next one, on to the next one," in the words of rap sensation Jay-Z.

All too often, dates can feel like press conferences. One party lobs questions, while the other is praying he doesn't fumble his words or get a shoe hurled at him a la President George W. Bush in 2008.

For these reasons, many urbanites find it difficult to establish a meaningful connection with someone. So what is it about Team in Training that so easily sparks romance? Is there a scientific explanation behind the attraction, or is the chemistry just a byproduct of coexistence?

'A Very Comfortable Environment'

TNT is the signature fundraising program for LLS. It started in 1988 with just 38 runners, but has expanded to be the world's largest charity sports training program. LLS, which was founded in 1949, is a 501c(3) public charity that focuses on curing leukemia and lymphoma, among other diseases.

According to the Better Business Bureau, which provides reliability reviews of businesses and nonprofits, LLS meets all of the bureau's 20 standards for "charity accountability." Charity Navigator, which measures things like a charity's financial transparency and accountability, gave the organization three out of four stars. Their only issue with LLS was that it doesn't provide a copy of its audited financials on its website.

In 2011, LLS had a total revenue of about $283 million for that year, $270 million of which came from contributions. About $215 million, or 76 percent, went to program services, including cancer research.

Many people who join TNT do so because they know someone who was affected by cancer. Participants feel like it's a way to take control of a seemingly unmanageable situation. Startz, for one, joined because both his college roommate's parents passed away from cancer. Trygve Cossette joined after his mother passed away from lung cancer; his brother has also been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

"TNT was a very comfortable environment to be in to deal with grief," he said. "You can have those conversations if you need to."

Researchers have shown that humans value vulnerability in their companions. "We are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth," Dr. Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, told Psychology Today. "We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect." Psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein even suggests that couples partake in vulnerability exercises like trust falling to help improve intimacy.

'Raw Moment'

Unlike the typical first date, which usually involves food, drinks, a movie and a forced smile, members of TNT say that you're not saddled with all the expectations of a normal courtship when you meet someone through the get-in-shape program.

"If you're at dinner and a movie, it's not the same as being at mile twelve on your first twelve or thirteen mile run," Alison Cossette said. "After a long run, there are no filters. You just are who you are."

According to Michele Przypyszny, executive director of the New York City chapter of LLS, the organization does not specifically market TNT towards single people, although it does tend to attract that demographic.

"If you're single in the city, or new to the city, it's a great way to find a community and do something good for yourself," she said. Also, marathon training (not to mention fundraising) requires a lot of free time. Single people - those without kids, that is - tend have a lot more of it at their disposal.

In addition to training together, TNT teams also do brunches and happy hours as a group, usually post-workout. "These are people who are out getting dirty and sweaty and are very comfortable going out as a group and eating afterwards," Alison Cossette said. "[They're] people who are pretty comfortable in spandex, which means they're pretty comfortable with their bodies."

Przypyszny added: "You're really at a raw moment."

'Like A Confessional'

After a run, the body experiences a rush of the mood-elevating hormone called dopamine. According to psychology today, dopamine controls the brain's reward and pleasure centers. It enables us to pursue actions that reward us.

Endorphin release is another chemical response to exercise. According to Functional Neuroscience by Oswald Stewart, endorphins, which are produced primarily in the brain and spinal cord, trigger a positive feeling in the body, much like morphine. Sometimes called a "runner's high," endorphins reduce your brain's perception of pain and can also improve self-esteem.

The response is somewhat similar to what happens to our bodies when we fall in love.

"Part of the whole attraction process is strongly linked to physiological arousal as a whole," Timothy Loving (his real name), assistant professor of human ecology at the University of Texas, Austin, told CNN. "Typically, that's going to start with things like increased heart rate, sweatiness and so on."

CNN reports that a team at Rutgers University made brain images of people who said they were in love. They found that the area of the brain that makes dopamine was more active in the brains of people who were romantically involved with someone.

"When you're really, truly, madly in love, you get a great big surge of dopamine," Neely Tucker, a writer for the Washington Post, said during a Radiolab podcast titled "This Is Your Brain On Love." Jad Abumrad, a radio host for the WNYC science program, explained that dopamine works in conjunction with another chemical in the brain called norepinephrine. These two chemicals are responsible for attraction.

Biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher told Radiolab that dopamine rush is like the same rush you get from cocaine. "When people say love is a drug, it's literally true," Abumrad said.

Not only are TNT runners' bodies surging with dopamine, but they're also spending a lot of time together. One thing that Startz also pointed out about TNT was that the group becomes like a second family of sorts. "There's that camaraderie that comes out of it," he said. Przypyszny noted that members even become "addicted" to their training groups, much like runners "become addicted to the endorphins."

"Running is a catharsis," said Dr. Elaine Rutkowski, an assistant professor of nursing at California State University, Fullerton, in Southern California. "When you run with someone, you really have their ear. You find a lot to talk about, and the comfort level is there."

She added: "It's like a confessional."

An avid runner herself, Dr. Rutkowski explained that having a network of companions in life is key to being healthy and happy. "Doctors should write prescriptions for social support more than anything else," she said.

Dr. Rutkowski also mentioned that the link between marriage, the ultimate form of companionship, and long life is a well-documented phenomenon. Some studies suggest, however, that this connection between longevity and marriage is inconclusive, or at least complicated. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family indicated that while women who get divorced are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than women who remain married, men who were divorced did not demonstrate this same correlation.

What's The Verdict?

So, is it endorphins? Are all these doped-up runners simply stoned on hormones and feeling friendly towards the first person his or her eyes lock onto? Or, are they falling into each other's arms out of pure physical fatigue?

It's probably a bit of chemistry, but companionship is undoubtedly also at work. Like Startz said, TNT participants spend a great deal of time together, and proximity is one of the biggest factors that play into choosing a mate. Furthermore, TNT runners share a common goal; everyone's fundraising for the same cause.

"There's an eHarmony commercial that says it's 'compatibility marked by chemistry,' and I think TNT is the same thing," Alison Cossette said.

Feel like getting involved with Team In Training? Check their website for more information.

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