On Sunday, Sep. 26, Sika Henry crossed the finish line for the first time since earning her USA Triathlon Elite pro card. She’s the first and only Black American female triathlete to achieve professional rank.
Sika Henry is a 35-year-old analyst from Newport News, Va. She has a B.S. in economics and, according to her website, likes almond butter, red wine, the beach, long runs, training twice a day, and competing in IRONMAN triathlons. You know — the usual.
What you won’t learn is what history will remember her for. Henry is the first Black American woman to become a professional triathlete. Henry qualified for her USA Triathlon Elite professional license on May 2, 2021, at the Cancun Challenge.
But on Sep. 26, 2021, Henry completed her first triathlon as a professional athlete at the IRONMAN 70.3 in Augusta, Ga. She finished with 4:49:45 on the clock.
Becoming the First American Black Female Pro Triathlete
What’s makes Henry’s rise to pro-league all the more impressive is what she overcame on the way there. She didn’t turn to long-distance running until well into her 20s (she credits a failed relationship as the impetus). And it wasn’t until her 30s that she picked up high-level cycling and swimming.
But owing to her commitment and two-a-day training regimen, the 5’10” woman quickly became a tri specialist.
Then, in April 2019, Henry hit a barrier — rather literally.
She wrote for Bicycling Magazine, “My goal, to become the first African American woman to turn pro in the sport of triathlon, was completely shattered after a horrific bike crash while competing in an IRONMAN 70.3. Hearing the doctors discuss the severity of my injuries — including a broken nose, loose teeth, and a lacerated face that would require more than 30 stitches — led me to one thought: I quit.
“While it would have been easy to stow my bike away and leave this sport behind, I came back because I believe in the importance of inclusion — investing in recreational facilities and programs in underserved communities, donating sporting goods, and volunteering your [my] time.”
So, Henry hopped back into the training and eased back into racing, initially ranking middle of the amateur division. After regaining her confidence, COVID totaled the race calendar for most of 2020.
But it didn’t slow Henry down. In the fall of 2020, she ran a personal best marathon time, breaking the 3-hour barrier. It set her up to seal the deal at the Cancun Challenge Elite qualifier in May 2021.
Sika Henry Joins Legacy of Black Triathletes
Henry joins a small but pivotal wave of Black professional triathletes, including the first Black American pro triathlete (and avid bowhunter), Max Fennell, and BlackTriathlete.org founder Tony Brown. Fennell achieved the “pro” distinction 7 years ago.
In a 2019 article for HOKA ONE ONE, Henry wrote, “As I became more involved in triathlon, my personal goals got bigger, as did my passion for increasing diversity. I learned that only 0.5% of African Americans participate in the sport, and approximately 70% of African Americans lack basic swimming skills.”
“Even though my ultimate goal is to earn a pro card, I hope that any success I achieve in this sport will inspire others to participate, or at the very least encourage them to develop a skill — swimming,” Henry continued. She’s now hit her goal and will hopefully continue to inspire many more.
Follow Sika Henry on Instagram to keep up with her latest efforts. You can learn about how the USA Triathlon organization is fostering more diversity, equity, inclusion, and access online at USA Triathlon.