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News and Notes: Sika Henry Makes History, XTERRA Returns, and More

A look at some of the buzz we’ve picked up in the sport over the past seven days.

Sika Henry becomes first African American woman to turn pro, reflects on “following her heart”

Last Sunday, Sika Henry accomplished something she had set her sights on years ago: Becoming the first African American female in the history of the sport to earn a pro card. Henry, 37, did just that by finishing third amateur overall at Challenge Cancun, calling the experience “unreal.” Henry’s accomplishment was especially poignant given that she experienced a horrific bike crash during a race two years ago, which left her unconscious with a concussion, broken nose, lacerations on her face, and loose teeth. Henry reflected on that dark time this week on Instagram, writing, “two days after my accident (in 2019) my Dad asked me, ‘If you knew all of this was going to happen, that you’d end up broken and in the hospital, but you’d still go on to qualify for your pro card and be the first African American woman to do so…. would you still go through with all of this?’ For whatever reason I didn’t hesitate and said ‘Yes.’ It was my gut reaction. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart, and I am so glad I did. I wish the accident never happened but boy does it make me appreciate this accomplishment even more.”

Power Up Triathlon grant awarded to black age-group triathletes

In an effort to support the development of underrepresented athletes in the sport of triathlon, the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF) alongside gear brand Coeur Sport and USA Triathlon have awarded the first-ever Power Up Triathlon grant to three black women age-group athletes. The winners—Jenice Armstrong, Lisa Suarez, and Rudesia Sutton—are all training for the 2021 Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon on July 11 and will receive equipment, access to training communities, and one-on-one coaching. Said Armstrong of her motivation to go for the grant: “My ultimate goal is to be a positive role model and to encourage women—particularly African Americans—about the importance of staying active, especially as they age.” 

Olympic hopefuls compare, contrast triathlon to paratriathlon 

As the calendar gets closer to selection events for the Tokyo games, two Olympic hopefuls shared more about their journey and their specific events. Taylor Spivey, a fourth-place overall finisher in the 2019 ITU World Triathlon series, and two-time Paralympian Chris Hammer, who was born with one hand, chatted with Team USA about the similarities in their training (spoiler: it’s time consuming and they both like swimming the least) as well as some little-known tidbits about their careers (like how Spivey travels 11 months out of the year). 

Melissa Stockwell shares Tokyo goals 

In 2004, Melissa Stockwell became the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War when her vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, resulting in the amputation of her left leg above the knee. And in 2021, she hopes to become among the first paratriathlete to win medals in back-to-back Olympics. Stockwell, a 41-year-old mother of two who earned a bronze medal in the Rio Paralympics, says she’s not only eyeing a spot on Team USA, but plans to be on the podium in Tokyo. “The biggest goal is to be in Tokyo, to be on a podium, to represent the U.S.A. with that uniform on,” Stockwell told people.com. “And I think even through the pandemic that Tokyo is going to be such a celebration of sport not just for the U.S. but for the entire world—it’s going to bring the world together.” (To hear more from Stockwell, listen to her appearance on The Triathlete Hour from last week.)

Javier Gomez zeroes in on Tokyo berth

He’s already established himself as a force on the long-distance triathlon scene with two 70.3 world titles, but Spanish superstar Javier Gomez is going back to his short-course roots with the aim of one last appearance in the Olympics. Earlier this week, Gomez, 38, posted a video montage, with the caption “The road to #Tokyo2020 is in its final stretch… And I’m ready.” If Gomez, who won Challenge Cancun on Sunday, qualifies for Spain’s Olympic squad, it will be his second appearance at the Games, having earned silver in 2012 (he missed 2016 due to injuries suffered in a bike crash).

Off-road stars face-off with “roadies” at  XTERRA Oak Mountain

XTERRA racing is back—and the first major race of the season is stacked. On Saturday’s XTERRA Oak Mountain event in Alabama, “road” triathlon stars Andrew Starykowicz and Eric Lagerstrom will challenge off-road champs, including reigning two-time XTERRA World Champion Bradley Weiss and 14-time U.S. Champ Josiah Middaigh, in a battle along single track trails through the state park. “It is not going to be pretty, but it will be a learning experience for sure,” said Starykowicz. The women’s field is headlined by Suzie Snyder, who has been the top American elite woman finisher at the XTERRA World Championship for four straight years. 

English man plans to pull a plane during a charity triathlon

As if an ultra-triathlon isn’t challenging enough, try doing part of the run while pulling a plane. That’s just what an endurance athlete from outside of Manchester, England plans to do for a charity stunt this July. Carl Thomas—who has already logged a marathon while pulling an aircraft behind him—is planning on a bespoke triathlon to raise funds and awareness of Batten disease. The event will include a 250 mile bike in a weights vest, a five-mile swim, and a 26-mile run. The kicker? He’ll wear the weighted vest for the run and pull a small aircraft down the length of a 2.5-mile runway to complete the final leg. “This will encapsulate everything I have done so far, with the addition of swimming,” said Thomas of his past long-haul achievements, including running 10 marathons in 10 days. “This is the last one—I’m turning 37 in November and my body is starting to break down.” 

Podcast Notes

  • A packed Bek and Siri show episode includes a recap of 70. St. George, a chat with pro Maddy Pesch, plus training tips and race strategies geared towards tough and hill courses.
  • The Inside Tri Show features Bahrain’s 2 x Olympic swimmer, turned triathlete Sameera Al Bitar, who chats about being a female endurance athlete in the gulf region.
  • The Triathlete Hour rehashes all of the action from Ironman St. George 70.3 and offers some perspective on the 2021 World Championships on the same course.
  • Fresh off his unfortunate DQ at St. George, Danish pro Daniel Bækkegård checks in with the MX Endurance podcast to offer the inside scoop on exactly what happened, plus his plans for the remainder of the season.
  • Pro triathletes Sara Gross and Sarah True pop on the TriDoc podcast to chat about the role for men in advocating for women in triathlon as well as their thoughts on transgender women in the sport. (The episode also covers gluten-free diets).
  • Sarah True also catches up with Greg Bennett to talk, among many other subjects, her Olympic journey, the neurological issues that have plagued her in recent races, and her pregnancy (she’s due with her first child in July).
  • Racing soon? Tune into The TriDot for a run-down of 31 race-day, time-saving tips from coaches John Mayfield, Elizabeth James, and Jeff Raines.
  • Triathlete and Run Like a Mother 5K race series founder Megan Searfoss chats with YogiTriathlete about ugly crying on runs, trusting your crazy ideas, and “failing forward.”