The road ahead of triathlete Sika Henry hadn’t been an easy one. She suffered a serious bike crash in 2019. The pandemic put races on hold.
But on May 2, the 37-year-old Montclair native made history — becoming the first Black woman in the United States to achieve pro status, earning her USA Triathlon Elite license. She follows in the steps of Max Fennell of Pennsylvania, who in 2014 became the first African-American triathlete to get his pro card.
African Americans make up just a tiny percentage of triathletes, according to professional associations. Of the 12,293 respondents to USA Triathlon’s 2016 membership survey, just 120 described themselves as African American. The overwhelming majority, 10,379, were white.
Henry grew up in Upper Montclair and attended Mount St. Dominic Academy in Caldwell. Her first job was at Applegate Farms Ice Cream, making ice cream sundaes at the age of 16.
Henry remembers watching gymnast Dominique Dawes in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. Dawes became the first Black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics.
“I thought she was awesome. I could see myself in her,” Henry said.
Henry’s parents put her in a YMCA gymnastics program. She took up swimming, and was on the varsity team at Mount St. Dominic. At Tufts University in Massachusetts, she joined the track and field team through an open tryout; her height of 5 feet, 10 inches proved an asset. Henry became a National Collegiate Athletic Association All American in that sport.
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SOURCE: Montclair Local, Diego Jesus Bartesaghi Mena