Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
I didn’t set out to race an Ironman on every continent. When I first got into triathlon around 2004, I realized I could blend my love for travel with racing, and use the races as a chance to see the world. Once I did South Africa and Western Australia, I decided to go for races on the other continents, since that was always my personal travel goal. I took my time doing it though, and my final stop was in Malaysia in 2016. When I wasn’t racing abroad, I was doing Ironmans around the country. To date, I’ve finished 25 Ironman and iron-distance races.
Having been in the sport for so long, I was keenly aware that there weren’t many other African-American triathletes, at least not those who were racing and traveling as much as I was. So at some point, I started reaching out to other African-American triathletes that I knew to see if they had heard of anyone else who had raced an Ironman on six continents. I eventually reached out to Ironman, and they were able to verify that I was indeed the first African-American triathlete to achieve the feat. It was cool to find out that, as an African-American, there are still firsts to be had out there. You assume everything has already been done.
Back in the early 2000s, I was often the only African-American athlete in a given race. It never bothered me, because that was just normal for me. If I was lucky, I’d find one or two other [Black] competitors at an Ironman, and we would become fast friends. We’d introduce our families and they’d hang out together all day while we raced. Now, there’s a lot more support and clubs and visibility [of other Black athletes], so when I go to races, I do see more African-Americans. Not a ton, but more.
The experience as an African-American triathlete competing internationally has been...different. Some countries are very progressive and open. Others, well, let’s just say they’re not. I haven’t experienced anything overtly bad, personally. But when I travel in Asia, especially, I really stand out. I’ve been in small villages where people have never seen someone of color, so I get a lot of stares. Sometimes they are surprised to find out that I am there to race. I guess I don’t look like the other triathletes.
In general, traveling and competing internationally definitely presents challenges. The time change can be tough, and everything is in flux, logistically. You can’t just run out and buy your usual nutrition if you run out, or expect that you’ll find a certain meal at a restaurant. And you really have to expect the unexpected. Once, I flew to Italy and my bike didn’t show up when I landed. I waited for a few days and wound up renting a bike from a local shop and buying all new–and different–nutrition since everything was in my bike box. At 9 p.m. the night before the race, a bike finally showed up to my hotel, but it wasn’t my bike. I tracked down the bike’s owner on Facebook, and it turns out she had mine. So we swapped, and fortunately, I was able to ride my own bike in that race. Even with limited sleep and my nerves shot, I did pretty well.
My last international race was 70.3 Bangaen in Thailand last February. It’s crazy because the race directors and locals were already taking so many precautions [to stop the spread of COVID-19]. People were wearing masks, there was hand sanitizer everywhere, and we couldn’t get anywhere without getting our temperatures checked. All the things we are doing now, they were doing then. I joked that those kinds of restrictions would never happen in the United States. Little did I know.
Right now, I am aiming to complete every race Ironman offers in the U.S. I am just about there, with just a few more to go. They keep adding and taking them away, but I am close to finishing all of the U.S.-based races. In 2021, I’m supposed to race in Florida and Tulsa. I’m really hoping they happen so I can check those boxes and get closer to my next goal.