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How Dr. Tekemia Dorsey Is Taking Triathlon To Urban Youth

By Karen Rosen | Oct. 15, 2020, 4:19 p.m. (ET)

Dr. Tekemia Dorsey poses with her collection of triathlon medals.


When Dr. Tekemia Dorsey completed her first 70.3-mile “run, bike, run” duathlon in August 2013, she realized it “was not as scary as I had anticipated.”

So Dorsey decided to enter the world of triathlons. She’d already conquered women’s professional football as a scrappy running back/wide receiver and figured this was easier than getting smacked by people much bigger than she was. Dorsey simply had to change the first leg from a run to a swim.

There was just one complication. “At that point,” she said, “I didn’t know how to swim.”

Dorsey immersed herself in her new sport and finished her first full Ironman in September 2014. When her three school-age kids said, “We want to do what you did,” Dorsey taught them to swim, too.

But she had even bigger plans. That fall Dorsey founded the International Association of Black Triathletes, quickly turning the focus to urban youth. Dorsey estimates she has introduced triathlon to at least 10,000 children while organizing races and using the sport as a gateway to better health, more confidence and increased opportunities in academics and the workforce.

Last week Dorsey received the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s 2020 Rings of Gold Award. She was honored as an individual who has dedicated his or her life to helping young people achieve their highest athletic potential, while also assisting them in setting goals and establishing the mechanisms needed to achieve personal success on and off the field of play.

Dorsey, 47, from Middle River, Maryland, is the fourth African American woman to receive the individual award since it was established in 1996 and is the first recipient from her state.

Last year, Dorsey was elected to the USA Triathlon Board of Directors and is the first African American to serve. She is also a USA Triathlon Level I and Youth & Junior-certified coach, Youth & Junior Elite coach, USA Triathlon-certified race director, member of the USA Triathlon Race Director Committee and member of USA Triathlon’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Access Advisory Council.

Her path to becoming a leader in the sport of triathlon is a convoluted one.

A softball player in college, Dorsey redshirted her freshman year at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. She started running to lose the “freshman 15,” which was more of a “freshman 30.”

“As an African American, I’d seen my family go through diabetes, heart attack, stroke, aneurisms,” Dorsey said. “When I saw my first roll on my waist I knew I was in trouble. I started running for health reasons.”

She continued running while playing softball, but did not enter races until graduate school.
Dorsey ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego in 1998, then did the New York City Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon.

She planned to run the inaugural Baltimore Marathon in 2001, but changed her mind when her mother passed away. “She was supposed to be there with me,” Dorsey said, “so instead of running the Baltimore Marathon, I went out for the Baltimore Burn.”

That was an unusual pivot. She played football for the professional women’s football team (which paid travel expenses, but no salary) for six years.

“I told my coach I wasn’t used to being hit,” said the 5-foot-2 Dorsey. “I was very tiny, but I was fast. You put the ball in my hand, and I’m going to run.”

She also got tackled, but that helped her learn about herself. “I had to toughen up,” Dorsey said.

She quit football when she became pregnant while finishing up her first doctoral degree. Dorsey continued running marathons, played recreational softball and started coaching.

When she decided to do her first triathlon, Dorsey ran on a treadmill and cycled on a trainer because she didn’t want to spend so much time away from home.

She also finally addressed her fear of the water, which she’d had since she was a child going to the community pool.

“You know how people play around in a pool and they dunk you under? Dorsey said. “That’s what happened to me.”

She had only one in-person lesson. Within five weeks, Dorsey could swim 66 laps, then she hired a coach to help her adjust to open water.

Dorsey finished her first Ironman with room to spare under the 17-hour time limit.

Dorsey’s kids were so impressed they wanted to be triathletes, too. She founded the IABT, the IABT Multisport Racing team, the IABT Junior Triathlon Club and the Sports Academy for Urban Youth.

With other organizations vying for adult triathletes, Dorsey said it was easy to look for ways to advance the sport from a youth perspective “because I had three of them in my house.”

Heaven will turn 16 on October 20, Halee is 14 and BJ is 12.

The club is a family project.



Dr. Tekemia Dorsey poses with a group at an event for the International Association of Black Triathletes, which she founded in 2013.


“They decided that they wanted to start the club because they want more kids to look like us,” Dorsey said. “I said, ‘You can’t just say you want to start a sport, what do you want to tie in with?’ They talked about helping kids get healthy, so now they owned it. They became immediate leaders in their communities and advocates for kids because they connected with kids through a sport that wasn’t popular.

“From there, their sense of self, their sense of purpose, their sense of vision continued to grow. My own kids and other kids from our club went from doing local competitions to doing youth and junior national competitions and swimming open water.”

Dorsey has partnered with local parks and recreation to tackle childhood obesity while introducing triathlon to schools and colleges in the Baltimore area.

“When people say that the reason why triathlons aren’t in underserved and underrepresented communities is because of a lack of resources, I have to negate their theory,” Dorsey said. “That’s not it. The problem in underserved communities and urban communities is the lack of knowledge, awareness and exposure to triathlons.”

She said when she asked a college coach if he knew what a triathlon is, he said, “My kids do football, basketball and track and field.”

“No, that’s tri-season,” Dorsey replied. “That’s not a triathlon.”

Once she began introducing young athletes to the sport, Dorsey understood that finances and transportation could be an issue so she became a race director to host local events.

“I had to bring it to them,” she said.

Her work has garnered accolades and proclamations from across the state of Maryland, and, with the USOPC award, national recognition. She is still hoping to add an international component to her nonprofit. 

Dorsey has two books coming out next month: “A Deep Dive: An Urban Multisport Impact” explores her work in the Baltimore area and is an example for similar programs across the nation, while “Empowering TRIathletes to LEAD” explains how triathlon can help break the cycle of poverty in urban communities.

“Dr. Dorsey has long been a trailblazer in the world of multisport, and we are thrilled to see her contributions now recognized by the wider U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family,” said Rocky Harris, CEO of USA Triathlon. “Dr. Dorsey’s work with IABT is so impactful because it has created increased opportunities and access for African American and urban youth not only to participate in multisport, but also to advance their leadership skills and build academic and professional experience.

“Young athletes who come into contact with IABT are equipped with the tools to succeed both within and outside of sport — all while joining a positive, supportive and enduring community.”