Sadé Smith competes at the 2018 Fyn ITU Duathlon World Championships on July 8, 2018 in Fyn, Denmark.
Sadé Smith started competing in triathlon when she was just 8 years old, and for many years whenever she raced, she was the only athlete of color.
“Thankfully I didn’t have to go through any negativity; everyone was very welcoming and that was great,” said Smith, a Black American. “It was just noticeable that I was the only one who looked like me.”
Smith is now a freshman at East Tennessee State University and a member of the triathlon team, and she’s one of the few athletes of color competing in the sport at the collegiate level. With a number of initiatives already in place and more to come, however, officials at USA Triathlon are actively trying to grow diversity in the traditionally white sport.
“The long-term vision is to make triathlon demographics represent the demographics of America,” said USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris. “That’s the ultimate goal, but that is the outcome of many other things that have to happen between now and then.”
About eight or 10 years ago, Harris said, the board of directors of USA Triathlon consisted entirely of white men. When he was hired in 2017, they’d already made a commitment to increasing diversity in the sport and Harris decided early on to focus first on leadership.
Now, the board is half male and half female, and they have their first paratriathlete as board president as well as their first Hispanic and African American board members. Harris also hired the first-ever female members of the executive leadership team.
“It wasn’t surprising that our diversity and representation didn’t really match that of America because at the highest level we didn’t represent that,” he said.
From there, other steps followed.
The organization was recognized by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee three years in a row beginning in 2017 for its diversity and inclusion programs. USAT first received the Advancing Diversity & Inclusion award in 2017 after increasing membership for women and people of color 6.23 percent, higher than any other NGB or High Performance Management Organization. The next year it received the D&I Choice award for the Paratriathlon Military Engagement Program, which is an effort to introduce the sport to injured veterans and increase opportunities for participation on recreational and elite levels.