By Amanda Loudin
When she spoke to a group of middle schoolers recently, Sika Henry asked what sports they played. Answers included basketball, football, and all the usual team sports. When Henry asked if there were any swimmers in the group, no hands went up. The school, as it turns out, was made up of predominantly African American children.
Henry, a 36-year old analyst from Virginia, is on a mission to become the first African-American female pro triathlete. Some of her motivation stems from the fact that it’s a sport traditionally out of reach for most African Americans for one glaring, egregious reason: access to pools and swim lessons. “Seventy percent of African American kids lack swim skills and drown at much higher rates than their white counterparts,” she says. “Anything I can do to encourage African-American kids with swimming is a positive.”
Henry herself swam on her high school team. She also ran track in high school, and walked onto the track team at Tufts University. Making the leap to triathlon, then, wasn’t insurmountable.
Photo source: Rook Productions Media
Post college, working in New York City, Henry fell off the athletic bandwagon for a time. “I decided to get back into shape by running a marathon,” she says. “It was a rough race for me, but it inspired me to try again.”
Her second marathon in 2015 led to a victory, and also lit a spark. She began taking triathlon seriously in 2016 and in just a few short years, quickly moved up the amateur ranks. In 2019, she put everything into becoming the first African-American female pro. Then came a horrific bike crash at Ironman Texas 70.3, setting her back, but not taking her out. “Recovering from the accident was one of the toughest things I’ve been through,” she admits. “But three days after the crash, my dad asked me if I’d go through it all again if it meant I would get my pro card. The answer was yes.”
Heading into this race season, Henry is motivated and will first tackle the Challenge Cancun 70.3 in April. If she places in the top three overall, she’ll officially turn pro. If not then, there’s little doubt she will get there in the near future, making history as she does it.