Sika Henry remembers setting a goal back in 2017. However, it was not just a goal – she aspired to become the first black professional female triathlete in the United States. In May this year, she finished third in the amateur division of Challenge Cancun, qualifying her for a U.S. Triathlon elite license, meaning she officially goes pro (these licenses require renewal of qualification after three years).
Going through a serious cycling accident in 2019 during an Ironman competition changed her perspective on competing and also made her want to become even more professional. “No one ever thinks it will happen to them,” Henry told POPSUGAR. “But then it happened to me and I realized how strong and resilient I was. I ride differently now. I am grateful for every time, every opportunity I get to ride.”
Henry was a high jumper at Tufts University and she was not so keen on long distance running. However, seeing people’s faces as they crossed the Boston Marathon finish line piqued her interest. And when she sets her goal on making insert-any goal-goal-here, she really wants to do it. “Every time I try something, I always want to see how much I can get out of myself,” Henry said. First, it became an American in the high jump. She conquered it. Then it broke three hours in the marathon. She conquered it. Then it became pro in triathlon – and with dedicated training sessions. . . well, you know.
Many black athletes have inspired Henry. There are Olympic marathon runners Meb Keflezighi and the late Ted Corbitt, whose former she met in 2015 when she attended a National Black Marathoners Association banquet. Henry also met Marilyn Bevans, the first black woman to break three hours in a marathon, and another person she named as inspiration was Dominique Dawes, the first black athlete to win an individual Olympic artistic gymnastics medal. “The story behind people like me in these sports inspired me,” Henry said, and that is what she wants to represent to others.
“It all starts sometimes with just seeing someone who looks like you.”
Henry wrote in a personal essay published on Bicycling.com that in order for black communities and color communities to become more involved in triathlon, e.g. Be safer infrastructure and increased access to swimming lessons. She added in our interview that additional financial support for existing grassroots efforts such as diversity in aquatics and the Black Kids Swim is crucial.
On an individual level, Henry is dedicated to being the best role model she can be. First, she gives speeches in schools. “It shares my story. So many colored people are really not that aware of triathlon. And it’s like, if you do not know what it is, you can not do it,” she said, adding: “You know saying, ‘If you can see it, can you achieve it ‘or’ if you see it, can you be it ‘? it all starts sometimes with just seeing someone like you. “Having that role model – witnessing their success first hand – can really shape your life, Henry said.
Henry, too, works a full-time marketing job, and she has learned how to balance those responsibilities with her training plan. Getting a sweating session in during her lunch and another in the evening is what she is used to at this point; then she does a large portion of her weekly training volume – completing 100 miles on the bike or a 20-mile run – on the weekends. It’s not perfect, but it works.
Through it all, Henry still does not feel like she has ever had a perfect race, and that makes her come back for more. “There are so many little things that I still need to work on,” she said. “Something as simple as a transition, like going from the swim to the bike or the bike to the run. There are so many moving parts, moving pieces, in triathlon.” She becomes stronger mentally and physically as the years go by.
Henry’s debut race as a professional triathlete is unlikely to take place until the fall with perhaps the Ironman 70.3 Augusta. From there, she strives to try new races; she signed up for example. JFK 50 road race in November. In 2013, she started a blog to document her running and triathlon journey, and after the qualifying race in May, she wrote her very first post. It’s bitter, though she wants to document her next adventures as a pro athlete on social media. “I’m happy to sign a positive note!” Wrote Henry. “But before I go, let me tell you how a dream, a goal, finally came true.”