Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
When Nia Obotette’s niece joined a swim team, the gears began churning. Obotette, a triathlete, thought perhaps she could convince her to join in the multisport fun at Iron Girl, a sprint triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Obotette has participated in the race every year since 2013, when she entered the race with the plan to doggy-paddle through the swim, ride her $40 bike from Goodwill, and sprint to the finish.
“Once I finished that first Iron Girl, I knew I could do better,” said Obotette. “So that became my goal each year, to beat my old record.”
Triathlon has been good to Obotette, transforming her life in more ways than she can count. She wanted that same positive effect for her niece, so she did a Google search for “Triathlon Children’s Books” in hopes of finding a fun book to put swim-bike-run on her radar. As she scrolled through the results, she was disheartened.
“I couldn’t find a single book with images that looked like her,” said Obotette, who is Black. “There are more children’s books about ghosts, unicorns, and other fictional characters than there are focused on actual experiences of African-Americans. I even found a triathlon children’s book about a dog!”
Obotette’s curiosity was piqued, and she began investigating more. When she came across statistics on representation in children’s literature, she was floored. A 2018 study out of Cooperative Children’s Book Center of Education (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the percentage of books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds is abysmally low. The study found that 10% of books featured African/African American characters; 7% featured Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American characters; 5% featured Latinx characters; and just 1% featured American Indian/First Nations characters. However, 50% of books featured white characters, while 27% featured animal characters or “other.”
“I could not believe it,” said Obotette. “This was fuel for me to create something to fill the void.”
The result is I Am A Triathlete, a fresh and exciting book that looks to change the narrative about people of color in triathlon by inspiring African-American youth to swim, bike, and run. The title choice is a deliberate and powerful statement, meant to combat perceptions about triathletes. When groups aren’t represented in a sport, they wonder if they would even be welcomed to join. Obotette hopes to reassure youth they belong.
“I believe there is power in the words I Am,” said Obotette. “When anyone says the title of my book, they are subconsciously telling themselves that they are a triathlete. That’s amazing! What you speak will come to pass when preparation, and expectation is put in place.”
I Am a Triathlete will be released in Fall of 2020. For more information and preorders visit niatheauthor.com.