By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
The street forward of triathlete Sika Henry hadn’t been a straightforward one. She suffered a critical bike crash in 2019. The pandemic put races on maintain.
However on Could 2, the 37-year-old Montclair native made historical past — changing into the primary Black girl in the US to attain professional standing, incomes her USA Triathlon Elite license. She follows within the steps of Max Fennell of Pennsylvania, who in 2014 grew to become the primary African-American triathlete to get his professional card.
African People make up only a tiny share of triathletes, based on skilled associations. Of the 12,293 respondents to USA Triathlon’s 2016 membership survey, simply 120 described themselves as African American. The overwhelming majority, 10,379, had been white.
Henry grew up in Higher Montclair and attended Mount St. Dominic Academy in Caldwell. Her first job was at Applegate Farms Ice Cream, making ice cream sundaes on the age of 16.
Henry remembers watching gymnast Dominique Dawes within the 1996 Atlanta Olympic video games. Dawes grew to become the primary Black individual of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.
“I assumed she was superior. I might see myself in her,” Henry stated.
Henry’s dad and mom put her in a YMCA gymnastics program. She took up swimming, and was on the varsity staff at Mount St. Dominic. At Tufts College in Massachusetts, she joined the observe and area staff by means of an open tryout; her peak of 5 toes, 10 inches proved an asset. Henry grew to become a Nationwide Collegiate Athletic Affiliation All American in that sport.
“For anyone who’s only a stroll on, it was fairly miraculous the accomplishments that I had in school,” Henry stated.
Henry moved again to Montclair after graduating school and labored within the monetary district in Manhattan earlier than relocating to Newport Information, Virginia, the place she’s a now full-time analyst for Ferguson Enterprises.
Henry stated the calls for of working within the monetary district stored her from figuring out, and he or she fell out of form. However she’d at all times needed to compete in a marathon. In 2008, she signed up for one in Atlantic Metropolis.
“I ended up strolling and puking and it was only a sizzling mess,” Henry stated. “I nonetheless one way or the other broke 4 hours my first time. So, I used to be like, ‘If I practice correctly, I’d be capable of be okay at this.’”
Henry’s job in Virginia had a versatile sufficient schedule that she might be a part of proceed coaching. She competed in 5K runs and half-marathons. A brand new aim got here to her thoughts: a triathlon. With a background in swimming and operating, all she wanted was a motorcycle.
“On the time I used to be going by means of a extremely unhealthy breakup and I used to be form of depressed. So, I simply needed one thing to take my thoughts off that,” Henry stated. “There was a neighborhood dash triathlon. I had weeks to arrange for it. I purchased a washing swimsuit, a mountain bike, some goggles. And I’m like, ‘All proper, I’m simply going to do that completely unprepared.’ And I got here in, like, near the final place. However it was a lot enjoyable.”
In that race, Henry seen the shortage of variety of the contributors. Just one different individual of shade was within the race.
“I began researching and I noticed that there has by no means been an African American girl who was a professional in triathlon,” Henry stated. She had a long-term aim.
She received sooner — her 5K time received right down to 18 minutes. She ran the inaugural Newport Information One Metropolis Marathon in 2016, and received. Henry accomplished her first half-Ironman triathlon in 2016, and the nex yr certified for the half-Ironman World Championship. She competed in an Ironman 70.3 in North Carolina — the title refers back to the complete distance within the race, in miles — and positioned 11th within the novice class, lacking professional standing by 10 minutes.
In 2019, Henry educated all winter for the Ironman 70.3 Texas. Then, within the bicycle portion of the race, she crashed.
“I used to be going over 25 miles per hour, and one other competitor swerved into me. I went to the pavement face first,” Henry stated. She was hospitalized.
In her private weblog, Henry writes: “My nostril was damaged, my tooth had been cracked and some had been unfastened, they usually wanted to maintain stitching my face (34 stitches in complete).”
Henry stated it was tough getting back from that — “emotionally, simply traumatizing.” However she knew it wasn’t the tip.
5 months after her accident, Henry signed up for a qualifier race in Augusta, Georgia, the second-largest half-Ironman. She got here in sixth place, solely lacking professional standing by three minutes. She stored competing, however when 2020 arrived, most races stopped because of the pandemic. However Henry stayed match all through. She did a digital ultramarathon, a 50K.
Henry signed up for the Problem Cancun Triathlon. On Could 2, the morning of the race, the climate was windy and the water was uneven. It was one of many slowest swims Henry ever made, she stated.
Pushing ahead, she instructed herself: “Attempt to not suppose an excessive amount of about that. Get in your bike.”
Main as much as the race she rode for 80 miles each Saturday. However the trip was tough. Her bike broke after hitting a pothole.
She’d misplaced three minutes — the identical window of time that value her a professional card in Augusta. However Henry fastened her bike and pushed forward to the operating course.
Henry noticed different rivals slowing down and beginning to stroll. She went all out. She even handed her pal, Alicia, who’d been approach forward of her earlier on.
“I knew once I noticed her on the final lap, I used to be like, ‘OK, she’s more than likely within the high three. If I can move her, there’s an opportunity I may need my professional card,” Henry stated.
She completed because the third-place novice, and certified for her professional card.
“My dad and I couldn’t consider it,” Henry stated.
She stated the win is about greater than a private athletic aim.
“I discovered of the significance of illustration and picture and variety after my accident,” Henry stated. “All of the messages that I acquired and other people actually would message me and say, ‘I enrolled my youngsters in some classes due to you.’”
You’ll be able to observe Henry’s journey on her weblog, at why-i-run.blogspot.com, and on Instagram as @sikahenry. You can even discover her doing observe exercises at Brookdale Park, operating across the neighborhood on Park Avenue, Grove Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue each time she comes dwelling to go to her household.