Diversity in Triathlon
with Sika Henry
23 Aug, 2022 · Triathlon
Sika speaks about visibility for Black women in sports & what it took her to become the first pro black woman triathlete. She shares how she overcame a terrible bike crash and helps us understand how we can better support Black women athletes.
Athlete: Sika Henry
"Diversity in Triathlon with the 1st Pro Black Woman Triathlete"
[00:00:00]Sika Henry: And in 2019, April I flew to Texas actually to do Ironman 70.3 Galveston and one of the competitors in front of me didn't bother to look to see me coming.
And I was riding with. 30 miles per hour. And I don't remember anything and woke up in the hospital, had broken my nose, had to get about 40 stitches to my face. It was really bad, one of the worst things that's ever happened to me in my life.
And when I saw what I looked like you know, I woke up to three plastic surgeons standing over me and I'm like, oh my gosh, I quit. I'm not doing this anymore. I knocked my teeth loose and had to get a splint and put in my mouth and couldn't eat solid food for a month.
And it was just awful. But eventually I did decide that I was going to get back into the sport And I worked really hard, like really, really hard
[00:00:47]Stef: today's guest is Zika Henry. The first black woman ever to become a professional triathlete. Zika was born and raised in Newport news, Virginia, but obtained her college degree in economics from Tufts university at Tufts. She competed on the track and field team in high jump, where she earned the title of NCAA, all American.
Since entering the world of triathlons, Sika has used her athleticism and voice to bring visibility to black women in sport. She is also part of the Ironman foundation, as well as a Hoka ambassador for race, for change. In this episode, Sika talks about her journey playing multiple. Sports throughout her life only find track and field her senior year of high school, allowing her to walk on to Tufts university.
She describes a very serious bike accident. She was in just before the pandemic and tells us how she overcame the mental and physical obstacles in order to get back on the bike as an ambassador for race, for change. Sika also explains many of the barriers to entry in a sport like triathlon, which prevents minorities from participating and shares how we can help break those barriers down.
We are so excited to have Sika on our podcast today, here at voice and sport.
[00:02:02]Sika Henry: Thank you for having me. We've been trying to get this done for a while now.
[00:02:06]Stef: Right? You know, we're just a little busy, but a good busy, because you're doing incredible things in the triathlete world and we're building a platform, so there's a lot going on. But I'm so excited just to start with your athletic journey at the very beginning, because you were a swimmer in high school. And from there you went on to be a collegiate high jumper and sprinter at Tufts university. Where you were named the NCAA all American. So how did you get introduced to those sports and why did you start with.
[00:02:36]Sika Henry: I'm almost embarrassed to call myself a swimmer because I'm a triathlete now. And the swim is by far the weakest of my three sports, but I grew up swimming and my parents put me in lessons really young. They wanted to make sure that, you know, I knew how to swim, that I didn't have Anything holding me back really in terms of sports and, you know, just going to the beach and being at friend's houses and pools.
And we had a huge in ground pool in my backyard growing up. So, my parents were like, you need to learn how to swim. And I really grew up playing just about every sport, especially in the summer when I was off from school. My parents had me in softball and soccer and basketball. So I was never just really a one sport athlete and gymnastics was actually one of the sports that I loved the most growing up, even though I'm about five 10.
And then high school, I was. I was never allowed to not play a sport, I'd say, so it was always like, okay, what are you going to do this Susie? You need to pick one. And in high school I had a few friends that were on the swim team and I did not go to collaborate where they're practicing, every day in the morning, before school and then after.
So I was just on my high school team and, I swim all four years and I. Was kind of just goofing off my senior year in gym class. And the track coach saw me jumping, playing basketball. He's like, wow, you can jump really high. You should come out for the track team. And I'm like, well, you know, I had already gotten into Tufts university at that point.
And I'm like, you know what, why not just try something new at the end of my senior year? And I ended up high jumping and. And I reached out to coach Kristen Morwick at Tufts university and asked if I could walk onto the team. And I ended up , doing track and field all four years.
[00:04:24]Stef: Well, that is so amazing because I think it's just incredible that your story began playing so many different sports, all through high school, doing swimming, and then ending up at a division three school and kicking some major.
But while you're there becoming an All-American in a sport that you didn't even really start when you were younger. So do you think all of those sports that you did try and play and did when you were younger prepared you for that sort of quick transition and into being so successful in college?
[00:04:54]Sika Henry: I'd say that it helped me from being burnt out. A lot of my friends who grew up and started a sport really young and were training twice a day, every day, and like living at the gym. Solely focused on that one sport. By the time they got to college, they were pretty miserable. And then after they were done in college, if they had a scholarship or something like that, they were like, that's it, I'm done.
And you know, me, it's decades later and I'm still racing and doing stuff. So I think having balance to my life helped a lot. It made it more fun. I didn't feel like one particular sport defined who I was. So I think that's helped with my longevity in sport.
[00:05:34]stef: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we just finished a podcast with the Olympian gold medalist, Anna Hopkin, and, she actually took a break from sport at one point and then came back and won a gold medal most recently. So I think that there's this so many different paths and different ways to get to your dreams or. You know, just being okay that maybe your dream shifts and changes. So do you have any advice for young girls that might be sitting there like super, super focused on one sport and. That is literally all they are doing. And I definitely worry about burnout for sure. With these young girls, because we see a lot of people going into college and, dealing with sort of depression, anxiety, and a lot of stress.
And I do feel like some of that comes from the earlier years. And so how do we. With the girls that are at this, that I know are listening to this podcast. Like what advice do we give them about that moment in high school and those earlier years not to burn out.
[00:06:36]Track 1: Yeah, I think you're still developing and you're not entirely. Sure what the future holds or you know, what exactly you're passionate about just because you're passionate about something one day doesn't mean you are going to be passionate about it tomorrow or a year from now. And I think there are so many things out there that you can explore and try, and , you shouldn't just limit yourself.
Like, I'm really glad that I. Tried high jump randomly my senior year of high school, because it completely changed my life. I think some people think that they're like kind of forced in a bucket, like, okay, well I swam all four years. So now I have to go to college and swim another four years when you'll never know unless you try something.
And I think that's kind of been the theme of my life with sports, just always experimenting and kind of having bucket lists items in between things like, even though I'm a triathlete or occasionally jump into a marathon, or it's just doing certain things to keep it fun. I think that's the importance at the end of the day.
If you don't want to burn out, like do what you enjoy, find something that makes it fun.
[00:07:42]stef: Yeah, I occasionally jump into a marathon. No, no,
I didn't know. I doubt I'm lucky if I can like occasionally jump into a couple of mile run.
I love how
[00:07:54]Track 1: I mean, that's extreme. I mean, you could still hop a five K or, you know, I do some crazy things. I hopped to do a 50 mile or last year, so yeah.
[00:08:04]stef: I just love how casual you are about that. But I love it. It's great advice. And I think it is so important to explore in those early years, but then, you know, what, if you're, in the opposite bucket and you've stuck to one sport all the way through high school, it's okay to, to start experimenting then. So I think it's just really great advice. So let's talk about your transition going from high school to college, especially with trying a new sport. Let's talk about that a little bit because during your collegiate career, you were coached by Kristin Warrick and she's now I think on her 22nd season after being hired in 2000.
So she has also been named new England coach of the year, seven times in her career and is credited with grooming numerous athletes into all Americans, including yourself. So what do you think was the greatest lesson more. Taught you during your collegiate career.
[00:08:55]Track 1: Man, she's tough and we're still extremely close. We joke because I was a high jump burner and I hated running long distance and I didn't really want to run a mile to warm up. And now she's like, you know, you're doing iron mans and stuff. Well, you know what happened in college? So I think she made me more discipline.
For sure. She also was really good at acknowledging that academics came first and that was something huge for my parents too, that, you know, make sure that your grades are on order and stuff like that. So I think she really helped teach me balance. It wasn't just all track and field and it's the same way now.
I think that's kind of carried over to my life. I've worked a full time. So, I'm just one of those people that thrives off of finding that balance. So that helped make it fun. And, she's just a great coach because she was a former HighJump record holder at Dartmouth. So she knows a thing or two about being a track and field athlete and also high jumps.
So everything that she told me, I'm like, okay, she knows what she's doing. You know, she's a woman jumped like five, seven or something.
[00:10:02]Track 1: she was great.
[00:10:03]stef: That's amazing. How did having a woman coach also benefit you? You know, just being able to have more personal conversations. This is something that we know, unfortunately, just the majority, especially team sports are coached by men for young women. And so it does create a different dynamic, not to say it's bad.
But it, definitely can be hard to have some of those more personal conversations. So how did having a woman as a coach benefit you.
[00:10:30]Track 1: It's interesting. You ask that question now because I am coached by a male. I will say when it comes to certain things that females go through, like menstruation and, you know, emotionally hormonal, how you're feeling and those formative years, especially, you know, early in college, I was 17 when I went to college, so I was still developing and stuff like that.
So I think she got that side of females in sports. And it's easier for me to talk to somebody that can relate to those type of issues and, even being a boy problem, sin, you know, those things that you typically go through in your teenage years or early on in college and stuff like that.
[00:11:10]stef: What advice would you have to girls who maybe feel like they can't have conversations with their coaches right now, and they feel lonely or they feel a little stuck. Like if you're in that situation, you don't feel like talking to your coach about your period or about how you're doing in that particular week or day, what advice would you give to those girls?
Because I do feel like this is something that maybe a lot of young girls are facing out there
[00:11:32]Track 1: confide in your teammates. I'm really close still with my college teammates. In fact, we lived together all four years of college and when I didn't feel like I could talk to an adult or somebody who got exactly what I was going through, I talked to them. Also utilize the resources that you have, if you are on a college.
They usually have a sports psychologist sometimes, or there's usually pretty good resources that you can access in college to just need to ask around. But yeah, I think I relied a lot on my teammates cause we were all in the same boat going through the same things and the same frustrations and especially like pre-race jitters and, you know, nerves and stuff like that.
You know, you tell your coach like, oh my God, I don't want. I'm freaking out and, you know, she's like, get out there, you tell your teammate, like, I don't know, I'm so nervous. And they're like, yeah, me too. And you're like, okay, good. This is normal. So yeah, I'm talking to your, teammates, your friends and people who are in a position that can help that you have access to, you know,
[00:12:28]stef: Amazing. Well, you basically described the voice and support platform for us because that's what we are doing. This, we've got an incredible mentors that girls can talk to whether they're collegiate or professional, or like you said, your peers or a sports psychologist, or an expert in nutrition. There's a lot of incredible resources out there. But it is important to ask for help and don't feel like you're alone. Especially if you have a coach that you feel like you can't talk to, like that's not the only place you can go. There's a lot of other ways to create that support system.
So I want to talk a little bit about that in your experience, because you were a walk-on and then you became an All-American. So it's such an incredible accomplishment to go, from a walk-on to an All-American. And can you describe what it took to earn that scholarship? And how did you create a support system yourself?
[00:13:15]Track 1: Yeah, I like that you brought up mentorship because there were junior seniors on my team. And, I was just a freshmen when I was a sophomore and I chatted with them a lot and asked them for advice and admired them. And I was an All-American on my four by 400 relay team. And one of the athletes she's amazing.
She was division three, 400 hurl champion. In 2004, I wanna say Jessica tomboy. So she was a year above me and. I went to her for so many things. So I would consider her one of my mentors and I think that helped a lot in me. I don't know. I'm just really driven, even though I tried HighJump my senior year of high school.
I'm like, I'm going to college. I want to do this. I'm going to be an All-American. I'm going to qualify for NCAAs. And I'm just crazy. Like when I set a goal. 100% focused on achieving that and whatever little thing I need to do to achieve it, that's what they do. So you know, really meticulous about strength, training, getting sweet.
I would say all of those, it was really focusing on all the little things that helped me achieve what I did in a short span of time in college.
[00:14:24]stef: Well, for any of them walk ons that are maybe listening, or maybe there's a high school girl who decided to head to a different school because of academics and now maybe doesn't have that spot that she was hoping to have on whatever team. What advice would you have for anyone out there who's considering.
[00:14:44]Track 1: Just go for it. It's like anything in life. And I love the phrase, Yolo, you know, you only live once and you never know what's going to happen. It was one of the best decisions that I made deciding to take up track and field be a walk on. And of course there's a little intimidating at first, you know, You go to a school, you got get on a team and, you know, some people are like state champion of this and heavily recruited.
And, they had all these offers at all these schools and all of a sudden you're on a team with them and, you're still learning. I'm like I had never even competed in an indoor track before. And all of a sudden I'm learning how to run around a small 200 meter oval. So but it's a learning process for everybody.
Don't let other people intimidate you. Like, you don't know what other people are going through in their head and stuff like that. And just because somebody may come across as super confident you don't know. And I think we're all just. Trying to learn and be better versions of ourself. And I'm still working on that now, the whole imposter syndrome thing.
Like even now, when I race as a pro, you know, I wind up against people that I used to admire and follow on social media. And now all of a sudden I'm on the start line with them, but just focusing on myself and my own accomplishments and just my own.
[00:15:59]stef: I love that such great advice. Well, college is also a time where you're kind of forced to find balance between all these different things you're doing and you were very ambitious and goal oriented in college. Did that same ambition translate into school and academics for you.
And if so, how did you balance all that? Cause time management is definitely something you've learned in college. And for the girls that are like still in it and maybe struggling, how did you balance that? And did you find that competitive drive also in your academics, like you did on.
[00:16:32]Track 1: Yeah, I definitely describe myself as type a perfectionist. It's the type of person. If I didn't get an a, I cry, I never missed classes. I was always in the library and academics were straight up there. 100%. Like I wanted to do really well. When I was applying to schools, I applied to the top schools and, you know, sat around fretting, like, which ones am I going to get into?
And, all that stuff. So in terms of balance, it was hard. It was definitely really hard. When you're a collegiate athlete, you know, Traveling on the weekends. You're trying to squeeze in studying on a bus, traveling six hours somewhere. And, you can't really pull all nighters and stuff because you have practice early in the morning.
So I think the thing that probably helped me the most was living. My teammates being in an environment with other people who are going through the same thing as me. And so we're like on the same schedule, I think it's really hard. I don't know how other people do it. If they have roommates that are not in sports and, you know, they're free to do whatever they want.
But I would say that that was probably one of the best things for me, living with other people who were in a similar boat as me. One of my. Roommate, she was pre-med. So, seeing her balance, her workload and everything else and stay on top of things like she was so disciplined. So really just watching how other people do it.
Some of the older girls on my track team, just seeing how they were able to, be a computer science major while also, working on the side on the weekends and on same track.
[00:18:04]stef: Yeah. How do you take that drive? Which is great, right? That you're taking the drive both on the track and in school super seriously. But how do you make sure you don't put too much pressure on yourself? You know, at the end of the day, now, you know this, like you've graduated, I've graduated
also quite a long time ago.
You realize that like the grades don't matter as much as what, matters is what you're learning, the experiences you're getting, but you don't have that mindset. I certainly did. Not in college. So reflecting back now, would you, have been more kind or gentle to yourself or would you have done it the same way?
[00:18:39]Track 1: Oh, no, I would have had bitten so much more gentle with myself. Yeah, it was, it was crazy. I made such a big deal over the littlest things. That really don't matter. I mean, of course, yes. Like after you get out of school, your GPA is important and stuff like that. But I guarantee you're not gonna not get a dream job just because you got a 3.7 GPA versus a 4.0 really?
At the end of the day, it's just about being happy and finding that happiness. And I wish I had. Focus more on that, like living in the moment and not obsessing so much over the future or tomorrow, or, oh my gosh. If I miss a class or something, I'm not saying skip a class, but if you do miss something that was said in class, it's not the end of the world.
You're not going to fail the next exam and not graduate on time because of it. I think we're quick to blow things up out of proportion and it's taken years for me to understand that life doesn't necessarily work that way. So yeah, I wish that I had been a lot kinder to myself when I was younger and not taking everything so seriously.
[00:19:49]stef: Well, you heard it here. Everybody sequences to skip class. So we're just getting.
[00:19:54]Track 1: You know what, maybe that's coffee. Maybe you should, every once in a while.
[00:20:00]stef: I know I never did that either.
And at the end of the day, I think what you said is right. It's like, how do you find joy? Making sure you're feeling great, getting good experiences that's what really matters. It's hard to see it in the moment, but I really appreciate you mentioning sort of. What you would have done a little differently. It leads into my next question about just pressure and feeling like you always have to say yes to everything, especially when you get going, you become professional, which we're going to talk about, your transition to becoming pro soon here.
But this also, I feel like is very common for us as athletes, as high achievers in college. Feel the pressure to always say yes to things. So how do you
prevent yourself from getting burned out and making sure you take time for yourself.
[00:20:48]Track 1: I am still learning that I would say over the past year, that's something that I've really had to work on is actually saying no to things like you can't say yes to everything. Balance is super important. Your health, your happiness, your mental stability is really important. It's okay to say no to things.
And I still struggle with that. I want to say yes to everything, but I guess for me, I focus on prioritizing things like how important is this to me? Saying yes. Out of obligation or because I feel bad or, you know, something like that. I think about, I guess maybe this comes across a little selfish, but, well, what does this do for me too?
Like does me saying yes open the door for opportunity for me is it something that I'm passionate about? So yeah, really just prioritizing. For me, I kind of great things on a scale of zero to 10 now, and 10 is like, no, this is. Once in a lifetime opportunity type of thing that I can't miss out on.
And then zero is. It's okay. Like it's a right to pass on that. And I saw Gwen Jorgensen, who was the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in Rio and the triathlon. She wrote a post a while ago saying a few people wanted to interview her and they asked her if they could interview her at two o'clock, but that was the time that she took a nap and she felt the need to explain why.
Couldn't do it and she felt bad and she's just like, no, you know, two, o'clock my time. It's my time to take a nap. It's okay to say no to an interview. And that really resonated with me. I'm like, okay, well, alpha one Vic gold metals is still struggling with saying, no, this is a common thing. And yeah, I appreciated that post.
[00:22:30]Kate: thank you for listening to the voice and sport podcast. This is just a quick inter delude from Kate. Tugman the producer of this voice and sport podcast episode. I run track and cross country at UCLA. I love working with voice and sport in order to empower young girls and women in sports. I would love if you could join us in trying to make a change, go follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter at voice and sport.
For more amazing content, you can also sign up for free and join our community of female firstname.lastname@example.org for mentorship, sports, content inspiration.
Thank you. I hope you enjoy the rest of the episode and let's get back to it.
[00:23:04]stef: I love that. Well, we've had Gwen on our podcast and I'm glad that the voice in sport podcast rated 10 on your scale to say yes to, because we're so excited to have you here. And same with Gwen. I mean, you guys are great examples of just incredible role models. And so it's important for young women to have exposure to women like you and just hear, your authentic stories, like the struggles that you had and what you would have done differently. That's sort of the whole concept of, voice in sport.. So I think this is a great transition to talk about your road to becoming. Obviously having a great experience in college you then went on to achieve some incredible things. After college and the road to achieving triathlete professional status is very challenging.
As I've learned, you have to either finish as a top 10 amateur at world championship events. Place in the top five at a USA triathlon age group, national event, or finishes a top three amateur at another qualifying race. So you became the first black woman to ever achieve professional triathlete status. Congrats, pretty amazing.
How did you go about achieving the status when the barriers and obstacles to becoming a professional triathlete is quite.
[00:24:23]Track 1: Yeah, it was a long journey. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It took years for me. I did my first triathlon. It was just a sprint. It was back in 2013 local. And I was going through a breakup at the time and I was kinda depressed and I saw that there was this local try and like, you know what, I've always wanted to do it.
I've swam before. I can run. I just need to go to Dick's and get a mountain bike. And I did not know what I was doing, but I did finish and I was close to last, but I had fun. And that was what was really important and in what was missing at the time. So. Yeah 20 listings where I got hooked after I tried it, I'm like, okay, I can get a little faster and let me get rid of this mountain bike and get a road bike and figure this out.
And one thing that did stand out to me was the lack of representation and the lack of people of color that I saw in this sport. And the more research I had done. The more, intrigued I was by it. And I realized that there had never been an African-American woman who was a pro in the sport before.
And that there were less, at the time, there were less than 1% of African Americans in the sport and I'm like, oh, this is crazy. So I decided to start a blog about my journey. And I started writing after every race, what it was like, and just kind of put it out there for whoever wanted to see who was interested in the sport.
And, I kept at it and it was, like I said before, not a smooth journey. It wasn't like all of a sudden I was killing it at races and winning, and then I got my pro card and. A lot of setbacks, a lot of figuring things out, hiring a coach you know, injuries, a horrible bike crash.
And, but yeah, I think the thing was that I just kept with it. So that consistency is what got me to where I am now.
[00:26:10]stef: Well, let's go back to that very beginning of the moment. So did you set out to become a professional triathlete,
or it sounds like you just entered an event and then you were like, oh, I like this. And then I guess at what point were you saying to yourself? I would like to do this as a career.
When did that happen?
[00:26:28]Track 1: Never years later in fact, 2017. So that sprint was 2013. So it wasn't until 2017, I went to a conference in Dallas and it's called triathlon business international conference. And one of the panels they had was about diversity in the sport. And I was a guest on the panel. And when I was up there, I talked about the lack of representation and that there had never been a black woman.
Then I blurted out, I want to be that black woman. I'm going to be the first African-American woman to get my pro card. And I mean, looking back, I really had some nerve saying that though, because I was still slow. I didn't really know what I was doing. I was still trying to figure it all out. And I mean, I did have a couple half Fireman's under my belt and stuff like that, but when I said it, I was like, oh my God.
Well, I'm in it now. I put it out there. So. I hired coach Jonathan, Karen, who coaches, some of the best triathletes in the world, luckily took me on. And I was like, yeah, turn me into a pro. And you know, it's funny. He uploads my workouts into training peaks. All of a sudden, I opened it and there's two workouts every day, like every morning, every evening.
And I'm like, where are the rest days? Where are the days off? And he's, you said he wanted to be a pro? I mean, granted, he eased me into things. It wasn't all of a sudden like, oh, I, you know, I'm doing all this mileage and volume, but it was a rude awakening for me. I didn't realize that people train like that at the time.
[00:27:54]stef: Wow. Okay. So going from your first race, just you joined for fun in 2013 to declaring on a stage that you will become the first black triathlete to get a pro card was 2017. And then when did you get your pro level?
[00:28:08]Track 1: So I started working with him the winter of 2017. So then in 2018, I registered for a bunch of Ironman, 70.3 races. And I worked really hard, like really, really hard. And I ended up placing in the amateur division at all of those races. And. Things are going really well. And I'm like, okay, well maybe in 2019, and I'll find a qualifier rates, they'll just need to come and talk three immature overall, and that'll call it by me for my pro card.
So yeah, try in that winter. And in 2019, April I flew to Texas actually to do Ironman 70.3 Galveston, and you know, I got out the swim that was fine, like course was really crowded. And one of the competitors in front of me didn't bother to look to see me coming.
And I was riding with. 30 miles per hour. And I don't remember anything and woke up in the hospital, had broken my nose, severely lacerated. My face had to get about 40 stitches to my face. It was really bad, one of the worst things that's ever happened to me in my life.
And when I saw what I looked like you know, I woke up to three plastic surgeons standing over me and I'm like, oh my gosh, I quit. I'm not doing this anymore. Had to find on my parents' house and, stay there and can take care of myself. I knocked my teeth loose and had to get a splint and put in my mouth and couldn't eat solid food for a month.
And it was just awful. But eventually I did decide that I was going to get back into the sport and I worked really hard again. And then 2020 came and the pandemic happened like, I guess I'm really not supposed to get my pro card. Maybe this was just, you know, helping opening the door for another young woman.
Who's going to get her pro card. But no, when the world finally opened up again and I could race I went to Mexico with my dad in may 20, 21 and I was third amateur overall. Qualifying race. And I got my ProCard.
[00:30:02]stef: So amazing. And so how did you feel in that moment? And did you reflect back to the lack of diversity in this. What was your first thought when that happened? When you, got that third place finish, what went through your mind?
[00:30:14]Track 1: Well, it was ironic because we did not know what place I was in because of the pandemic. They separated us and it was a staggered start. So the entire time I'm racing, I actually had no place, no idea what place I was in. And we had waited about an hour to find out because people were still crossing the finish line.
I started after me. But once it was confirmed and I knew that I had qualified, honestly, it was a relief. It was something that I had worked so hard for, for so long. I did give up. Aspects of my life in terms of having a social life and, you know, going to bed at 9:00 PM on a Friday night when, people are out going out and having fun.
And the sacrifices that my family made to be at my races and to fly all over the place. So it was a relief and it was nice to really just enjoy that moment with my dad. And we talked a lot about my grandpa who is probably one of the biggest inspirations in my life. And unfortunately he's passed, but he was a world-class athlete, a football player and track and field athlete, but he couldn't go to the NFL because of segregation and something that he had always said was That he never thought he'd see the day when blacks could play professional sports.
And that's something that had really stuck with me. So when I got my pro card, I wish that I had got to share it with my grandpa and my dad. And I talked about that, but it was like just one of those really important moments in my life.
[00:31:43]stef: Wow. Yeah, that's so incredible. And it just speaks to also the incredible amount of progress that there still is to have within the sport. And I know that this is a big passion of yours today. You know, even though you've gotten that first pro card, you want to see a lot more young women and men. I get it following you. And so this follows a lot of the work that you do now and your passion and advocacy and creating better representation in the tri community. So recently you have partnered with iron man foundation. Where you will serve as an ambassador to identify and remove participation barriers within the sport of triathlon that specifically impact black and other diverse athlete groups. So just want to start out with some shocking, statistics that show. Why this work that you're doing is so important. We know that black women and men make up only 0.5% of participants in the sport of triathlon. And according to the most recent figures from the triathlon industry association, only around 2% of triathletes are black, Asian, and minority ethnicities. How can we change this? Because I know this is something you're super passionate about, but how and why is the sport of triathlon lacking such diversity?
[00:33:04]Track 1: Well first, I appreciate you having me on the show. I think that is. One of the most important things is really to get the story out there and for people to understand the lack of diversity and what can be done and the initiatives that are out there. And, you know, when I was growing up, I didn't know about triathlon.
And I'm hoping now with my story out there and huge platforms like this one You know, that's somebody that looks like me will hear this and be like, you know what? I want to try that sport. Or I want to take up some lessons because, I just heard about this crazy story. So one of the other statistics is about 64% of African African-Americans black, basic swimming skills.
So obviously if you don't know how to swim, you can't do the sport triathlon on. And one of the great things about partnering with the Ironman foundation and especially initiatives, like the race for change release that are taking place all over the country. Right now, I'm at Ironman 70.3 events.
There's more representation out there. People see more athletes that look like themselves out on the starting line out there, swimming, biking, and running. And the foundation is really been great with donations at the local YMCAs. Giving back swim lessons free swim lessons and donating bikes.
And, it's all these things. I mean, it is a really expensive sport for sure. Like there's no denying that and that affects every ethnicity. You know, whether you're black, white, whatever. It's hard to get into a sport where, a bike might cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.
But I will say that you don't need like expensive equipment or anything like that to try the sport. In fact it was amazing two weeks ago these three young girls, a young woman of color up in Connecticut, they decided to start their own triathlon team.
And they said they found my story online and they reached out to me through social media and I was able to introduce them to some of my sponsors who help give them equipment and stuff like that. And Just so in awe of the fact that they said they were inspired by me, but they just recently completed their first rent triathlon.
So yeah, I think that's just proof right there. That representation is super important. And the fact that, companies are willing to chip in and help and donate money to foundations like.
[00:35:24]stef: That's amazing. Well, I think if any young girls out there listening to this story and they want to start their own triathlon club, you can definitely reach out to us at. Before and to Seca because vis will get involved in help as well. We can give you guys memberships to voices for that way. You have access to sports, psychologists and nutritionists for your training or access to mentors, because you do need to have other people in your life during things, especially when they're, not as common. You don't want to do it alone. And so I think what you're doing is just so incredible Seca and we are here to help. So I want to give you the chance to also just talk about like, some other things that other companies or other athletes or anyone listening part of the vis community can do to bring more representation to the sport of triathlon?
[00:36:10]Track 1: I wish more companies would take a chance. I just am so blessed. And I was so lucky that companies like hookah ended up sponsoring me when I, so boldly stated at that conference that I wanted to be the first black woman to get my pro card. Eric Gilson and these a rep and a recruiter for hookah, he came up to me and he's like can I send you some sneakers?
You know, eventually we'd love to represent you. And I'm like, Okay, but I've never even broken, three hours for a marathon. And I have a one and a half iron man or anything like that. But he believed in me and the cause, and not just me as an athlete, but me as a person and what that representation could do for this.
So I think the fact that companies, as big as Hoka took a chance on somebody like me is huge and I wish more companies would do that. Like I get it, you know, you want to sponsor an Olympian or somebody who has 500,000 followers or something like that. But it's really important if you want sports to keep growing and the visibility.
Yeah. Especially women in sports to be out there take a chance on some young athlete who is bold and wants to, make it.
[00:37:21]stef: I love that. Well, when you were a little girl, there were no professional triathletes that looked like you. So now you're out here breaking barriers and there is a lot, of inspiration that girls can look to you for. But if you were to say something to a young girl today who may have never pictured herself as a triathlete and still feels like there are barriers in front of her. What would you like to say to her?
[00:37:48]Track 1: I guess you don't know what the future holds. I never thought in a million years that I would be where I am today and it was all because I took a chance and tried something. And I really believed in myself as crazy as certain things and goals sounded. If I hadn't tried it, like if I hadn't. Done that sprint triathlon to see what it was like.
I wouldn't be here on this podcast. And I think one of my favorite quotes is always believe something wonderful is about to happen. And even if I'm having a bad race, I try to repeat that, recite that in my head because just crossing the finish line. Like even if it's not the day that you envision or the time that you wanted to hit or something that you'd want it to win, just because it didn't happen.
There's still something really great that you can take away from it. And and it keeps me from kind of beating myself up and you know, like it's easy to feel like nothing is ever. But always believe something wonderful is about to happen. So even if you don't see it in that moment or the next day you know, months from now, you might look back and be like, I'm so glad that I did that.
Like, there was so much that I could take away from that.
[00:39:00]stef: What advice would you give to the girls out there that are maybe in their early careers here they're trying to follow your footsteps. They're right behind you, but they do get beat up. They fall off their bike they have a moment where they have. A pretty big setback like you did in that race in Texas, you know, what advice would you give to girls in those moments?
Cause you said it yourself, you said I quit. I'm
done, but then you found your way back to the sport. So in that moment, I guess what got you through it and what would you say to another young girl who might be starting.
[00:39:31]Track 1: Yeah, I am lucky that I had family support. So, you know, find that person who you can confide in that you feel that supports you in your ambitions be open and honest about your feelings and stuff. I mean, I was on a rollercoaster. I definitely, I went through depression. Didn't want to get out of bed some days and it was horrible, but it's also important to be kind to yourself when these things do happen.
And another one of my favorite quotes is this too shall pass. And that's what I tried to tell myself, instead of that's it, I quit, you know, it's over, I'm done. I'm like, You know, this too will pass and tomorrow is a new day. And I just need to get through this moment right now. And you can even take that and, you know, racist competitions.
It's like, sometimes you're like in those deep dark tunnel and it feels like it's going on forever and you're never going to get out of it. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you just need to keep going forward and you don't know what awaits you at the end. And usually it's something great.
So, yeah. I would say just never know. I have not regretted, not quitting something ever.
[00:40:41]stef: Well, the mental side of your sport must be incredibly important because this is not a sprint or a quick high jump anymore for you to do these are hours and hours that you're competing. So, so much must go through your head. I imagine, as a triathlete. So how do you work on your mental side of being a great athlete and. Looking back now on your earlier time, maybe in college, what would you have started to do earlier when it comes to mental performance trends?
[00:41:09]Track 1: Well, I still get pre-race anxiety, shivers and, and all that stuff. And sometimes I actually get nauseous before races. But I look at it as just kind of my way of showing how much something means to me, how important it is. I want to do well. So I get nervous about it being bad. So it's really about putting things in perspective.
And you're right. My races are very long. It's usually an iron man. You literally out there all day long and you go through these moments. But I really do repeat that phrase, this too shall pass, like You know, you go through these bad patches and the racist and you're like, oh my gosh.
Physically, we can't keep going anymore. But sometimes it does help me to even look around and seeing other people I'm like, okay, they're on the struggle bus too. This is what we trained for. We train to keep going and going. I practice a lot of the mental side in my training. So that it's not new to me when I get to the race itself.
So yeah, kind of like pushing myself to that edge in practice prepares me for like the real life, the real.
[00:42:11]stef: I love that. It's so. I think it's one thing that I wish I would have had more access to when I was younger was just all the resources and mental performance side that there are out there. I just didn't even really think about that. It was all about physical health when I played sports. So we're hoping to switch that at voice and sport and like really encourage everyone to try both sides.
Right. And when you actually can find both and you train both, that's when you can become. The best version of
yourself. It's not just about that performance, but also how you feel afterwards.
[00:42:43]Track 1: I like podcasts too. I do. I'm on my way to my last race Ironman, 70.3 Eagle man. I was listening to potty. I was in the car for a few hours driving alone and it helps
[00:42:53]stef: you were listening to the
voice since we're called podcast,
[00:42:57]Track 1: Actually I did listen. I think it was a little
calling Quigley is cause I know she's been dealing with injuries and stuff like that, but yeah, no, I have stuff on just like all my playlist and I like listening to
[00:43:08]stef: Did you just say you have stuff on my plate,
[00:43:14]Track 1: yeah.
[00:43:14]stef: do some stuff on my platelets, like steps I've been, yeah. We need to diversify the host here at voice and sport.
[00:43:21]Track 1: No, that's not true. I don't know about that. No, a lot of, all of the podcasts though, I think they usually have the podcast host and, and I do, I listen to a lot of them. I listened to like Allie on the run and Carrie Tollefson, you start learning. And it's what gravitates you towards certain podcasts.
It's the style and the interviews and what type of athletes of that caliber that they have on their podcasts. So.
[00:43:46]stef: Absolutely. Well, who should we have next on the voice and sport podcast from the triathlete world?
[00:43:51]Track 1: Yeah. Somebody like Vanessa Forster she qualified for Kona. She's an age grouper. And her profession is on the mental endurance side of the sports, which so it'd be interesting. She probably answered a lot of these mental questions better. In fact, I have appointments with her before my races.
[00:44:12]stef: Amazing. Okay. Well, this has been so great to have you on the podcast and we can't wait to see not just what you're going to be doing, you know, in the actual events, but what you continue to do with the Ironman foundation and your work for fighting for representation in this. So important. And so we're here to support you.
I always want to end on two final questions, and this really comes back to what we're doing and why we're doing this, that voice and sport is to help our younger selves or younger versions for me very long time ago for you, not as Fargo, but what is one single piece of advice you would tell a younger girl in sport today that does not see herself reflected in that school?
[00:44:53]Track 1: Be the change you want to see be that person.
[00:44:56]stef: I love that. And what is one thing you'd like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
[00:45:02]Track 1: I would say more media exposure. I think that's where, when it comes to even contracts and money and being paid more as a woman in the sport, it really comes down to exposure. I learned that I think women make up 40% of. But we only receive about 10% of EDA exposure. So I think we deserve a whole lot more because there are a lot of really incredible women doing incredible things.
And I didn't know as much as I knew about even triathlon because I had to Google and do the research myself and stuff like that.
[00:45:40]stef: important to get that visibility. It's why we call voice and sport is.
[00:45:45]Track 1: Oh, that's good. Yeah. I didn't know that.
[00:45:49]stef: Yeah, it's an abbreviation for vis for visibility. It also means force and power in Latin and that's what we're trying to do. Right? Keep girls in sport, inspire them, bring on amazing women like you to bring more visibility to incredible women. So thank you for joining us here today, Seca and we're so excited to keep following and seeing all the great work.
[00:46:10]Track 1: I appreciate it. And thank you for giving me this much needed visibility.
[00:46:16]stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by vis creator, Kate Tugman across country and track runner from UCLA zika's journey brings visibility to black women in sport, reminding us how important it is to support the fight for equality. She's tearing down the barriers that prevent minorities from participating in some sports.
Additionally, Zika shows that you don't have to limit yourself to one sport activity or talent throughout your life to find your passion. Instead, she encourages us to try new things and to not be afraid to take risks because they can lead to incredible accomplishments. We are so thankful for Zika sharing her story with us today and excited to see all the amazing things she will accomplish in the future, not just in her sport, but in her advocacy to follow along with the rest of Zika's story, you can follow her on Instagram at Zika Henry. We also recommend that you check out some of our previous episodes, such as podcast.
Number 84 with para Olympian scout, Bassett, or episode number 81 with professional lacrosse player, Kayla Wood, head to the feed on voice and sport and filtered by journey or by triathlon and spend some time diving into the incredible free resources we have here at viz.
Check out the sessions page and filtered by professional athlete or journey and sign up for one of the free or paid sessions with our viz league or viz experts. See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.