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Sika Henry

36 | Newport News, Virginia Aspiring Professional Triathlete

Last year, Sika Henry was aiming to become the first African-American female pro triathlete. She was fit and improving, ready to hit the standard—and then she crashed.

She doesn’t remember the accident, which happened during 70.3 Texas last April, but when she woke up in the emergency room, she thought: I quit. “My injuries were so extensive and gruesome, I just didn’t think it was worth it,” she said. But then she remembered who she was doing this for: all the kids who were following her journey, who didn’t have many other triathletes who looked like them to look up to.

Family, friends, co-workers, and youngsters she had never met sent her handmade cards telling her what an inspiration she was. “It truly made me realize how much representation matters, that seeing someone you can identify with can have an impact on why you’d try a sport like triathlon,” she said. Five months later, she was back on a start line.

For Henry, who grew up swimming and was a long jumper at Tufts University, long-distance endurance sports weren’t necessarily an obvious choice. She tried a local sprint triathlon as a bucket-list item (in a swimsuit and on a mountain bike) and then just wanted to finish a marathon. Once.

But by 2017, in between working as a project manager in marketing analytics, she was taking triathlon seriously and seeing some real results, making the podium in every 70.3 she did. “I was confident that if I found the right coach, someone who could train me at an elite level, I’d have a shot at qualifying for my pro card,” she said.

Qualifying for your elite license requires meeting certain criteria—typically top three in the overall amateur field at a large enough race. Henry signed on with coach Jonathan Caron and started training twice a day on her lunch break and after work. (It took some trial and error before she figured out training before work left her too tired to focus on her paying job.)

She knew she was getting better and then the crash—and then the pandemic. ”I was in the best shape of my life heading into Challenge Cancun in April. Had that race taken place I believe I would have achieved my goal,” she said.

Now she’s keeping herself motivated by running her first 50K—DIY on a bike path in the rain—and trying to finally crack the three-hour marathon mark. She’s also used this extra year to spread her message of getting more Black athletes into the sport. For her efforts and her perseverance, she recently won the Outspoken Women in Triathlon: Athlete of the Year award.

All of her races for this year got rescheduled to next year and she plans to be back out there, inspiring kids and chasing her goals. Just two years later than originally intended.


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