Sika Henry becomes first African American female pro triathlete thanks to performance at Challenge Cancun

(Photo: Instagram Sika Henry)

Former successful marathon runner Sika Henry made history by becoming the first female and African American pro triathlete of our sport. She earned her pro card by showing a strong performance two weeks ago during Challenge Cancun, where she finished with a third place among Age Groupers and a twelfth place among pros. In an interview with The Virginian Pilot she expresses her happiness.

In 4:59 hours Henry completed this tough race. Due to high temperatures, high humidity and lots of wind, Challenge Cancun won’t go into the books as one of the fastest races. Henry finished within half an hour behind the winner Romina Palacio Balena (ARG). With her strong performance she impressed her national federation enough to earn a pro status for future events.

“Triathlon is one of the least diverse sports”

“Sports are such a beautiful thing, like a universal language we can all share”, she told The Virginian Pilot. “Triathlon is one of the least diverse sports, so if I can inspire people who wouldn’t pick up a sport like this to do, it’s worthwhile”, said Henry, who herself got inspiration from athletes like African American gymnasts Simone Biles, Dominique Dawes and Gabby Douglas.

That Henry was able to put together such a strong performance, is quite a surprise when considering the year she has had. Early 2019 Henry crashed in a triathlon due to another athlete cutting her off. Henry suffered great injuries from the crash: she lost many of her teeth, broke her nose, and severely damaged her face, even needing as many as 40 stitches. Fortunately, she didn’t let any of it set her back and soon got back up on her feet to train and race. In 2019, she nearly managed to earn a pro license, but Henry then missed the target time by four minutes.

While she hoped to come back even stronger in 2020, COVID-19 changed the plans and patience was tested. Now finally Henry can say she did it. And with a marathon time of under three hours on her name (not in a triathlon) she could make for a very strong competitor to fellow pro triathletes.

“65 percent of African Americans lack basic swimming skills”

One of the main things that kept Henry motivated to keep reaching for her goal, was the fact that many African Americans cannot swim. Something that she hopes will change in the future, and maybe watching her do triathlons can help achieve that. “65 percent of African Americans lack basic swimming skills, and we have the highest drowning rate”, she told The Virgian Pilot. “If my visibility inspires someone who looks like me to take swimming lessons, it’s worth it.”