If NCAA athletics resume this fall, a handful of women of color will be competing in women’s varsity triathlon at schools across the country. Collectively, they represent an incremental cultural shift in a predominantly white sport and are paving the way for future generations. Get to know five of these inspiring athletes.
Hometown: London, Ontario
School: Davis & Elkins College, Elkins, West Virginia
“I’ve been a swimmer for 10 years, and in high school I was looking for colleges where I could swim. That’s when Coach Hammer reached out and convinced me to join the triathlon team. He told me I could be a really great triathlete because of my swimming background. Last fall, during my sophomore year, I placed fourth overall in Division II at collegiate nationals, and I was ninth overall among all DI and DII athletes.
Being black in triathlon is nothing new for me. I came from swimming, where there are not many women of color in the entire sport. But just because I don’t see people like me in the sport doesn’t mean I don’t belong there. It pushes me to be better. I want to be a face in the sport, someone other people can look up to. I never had a role model in swimming growing up, so now I want to be that person for other kids coming up in triathlon.”
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
School: Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky
“Growing up, I didn’t play any organized sports, but I did know how to swim. So when I got to Transylvania and started talking to the coach, I figured I’d join the team and see how it would go. I’m the type of person who puts in the work. I don’t breeze my way through anything. My family was shocked that I was going to do triathlon in college, but at the same time, they were very supportive. My mom started learning everything she could about the sport.
The coolest part about being on a triathlon team is that we get all the gear–bikes, tri kit, and shoes–and our travel is covered. And it’s encouraging to improve. I’ve worked really hard and I’ve dropped my times across the board.
Here’s what I’d tell any young black girl out there thinking about doing triathlon: There are going to be people that look at you like you’re insane. And it sounds really scary, especially if she’s coming from a family where no one swims, like mine. I had no running, swimming or biking background. But I did it. And once you achieve all of these things you thought you’d never be able to do, it’s so empowering. You feel like you can conquer anything.”
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
School: Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
“When [coach] Dr. Jensen first told us about the triathlon team, I was the first person to sign up. Even though I’d never heard of the sport! But I was the captain of my swim team in high school, and I am part of ROTC, so we run three miles all the time. Growing up, my granddad was always taking me on long bike rides. So I felt like I had it in me to be a triathlete. He’s really excited about this, and so is my mom. She never missed a swim meet, and now I doubt she’ll miss a triathlon.
I hope that by competing in the NCAA as a triathlete, I’ll open the door for other African-American students to enter the triathlon world. I want to prove to others that if I can do it, they can do it, too. And I hope to lead them and to encourage my teammates along the way.”
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
School: Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
“Triathlon came to me kind of randomly. I was taking a swimming class as part of my major, and Dr. Jensen was the teacher. She mentioned the team, and I was interested. I ran track in high school and my mom has always had me take swimming lessons growing up. So I was eager. I wanted to run track in college and it didn’t work out. Now I have this awesome opportunity to be a student-athlete at an NCAA Division I school, and I’m so grateful.
I’m nervous about swimming in open water, but at the same time, I am very competitive. I’ll go in prepared so I can keep that confident mindset. Dr. Jensen has helped so much. She is very motivating and makes us want to be better.
I am so proud to be a triathlete and tackle a sport that not many people ever imagine being a part of. It’s cool to be the first triathlete to represent Hampton–and an HBCU. I will continue to brag about that for the rest of my life.”
Hometown: Haymarket, Virginia
School: East Tennessee University, Johnson City, Tennessee
“I committed to East Tennessee University, which is an NCAA Division I program, last summer. After competing in triathlon since I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to continue to do so in college. So I started looking into colleges that not only offered the sport, but a major in physical therapy as well. I decided on ETU after visiting the campus and meeting the team. I loved everything about it, and I’m excited to start in the fall.
I stand out as a black woman in triathlon. Of course, I don’t look like everyone else, but I don’t really pay attention to it. It has never been a barrier for me. We all train, we all work hard. I do see myself as a role model for younger kids. I have done swim clinics for minority children, and I enjoy giving back in that way. I hope that I can continue to inspire girls and boys who look like me to get into the sport that has given me so much.”