When Tony Brown took up triathlon in 2011, he noticed a dearth of diversity in the transition area. Brown wondered why there were so few Black triathletes. When he saw a 2009 USA Triathlon report showing African-Americans made up one-half of 1% of triathletes, Brown started thinking about how he could change that number.
“Of the small number of African-American triathletes I would see at various races, I began to notice the same familiar faces,” Brown said. “I wanted to provide a community for fellow athletes who have common cultural and community backgrounds.”
The Black Triathletes Association was formed, and in its first year grew to more than 2,000 members; today, that number has almost doubled. The organization works to increase diversity in triathlon and promote the sport as a vehicle for fitness in the African-American community, which is disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“We want to not only increase participation in the sport but also introduce a health and fitness lifestyle to communities of color,” said Brown.
BTA accomplishes this by facilitating networking and support through both in-person and online programming. When members are participating in a long-course race, for example, the BTA hosts an online “watch party” to follow along and cheer for their friends. After the race is over, the athletes are able to read the supportive comments: “It shows there was an entire community there to see you through your success.”
BTA also builds community (pre-COVID) at in-person events like group workouts, pre-race dinners, and race-day meet-ups. Despite being a small percentage of the participation field, people of color are able to easily find each other at races through BTA efforts. “I can’t remember a race, even as far away as the Middle East and South Africa, where I didn’t have a BTA member there to support me,” said member Khadijah Diggs. “It’s led to a lot of genuine lasting friendships.”
BTA also partners with other multisport clubs promoting triathlon to communities of color, including FastChix, District Triathlon, and the All Women’s Tri Team. The collaborative nature of this work has made for tight friendships and even tighter support networks as they work toward changing the demographics of multisport.
“Being in a group with others that look like me, that all participate in a sport where not many look like us, gives me confidence to go out and compete in places where few look like me,” said member Pamela Archuletta. “Representation matters.”