Diversity in Triathlon: Meet Triathletes from HBCUs

By USA Triathlon | Nov. 01, 2018, 4:37 p.m. (ET)

This week, USA Triathlon, in partnership with Hampton University, welcomed Hampton as the first historically black university (HBCU) to add women’s collegiate triathlon as a varsity sport.

The exciting news is just a step in the right direction in USA Triathlon’s larger mission to increase diversity in collegiate triathlon and the sport of triathlon as a whole.

People coming together from all walks of life to compete with, support and encourage one another on race day is just one of the many things that makes triathlon so great.

While Hampton University is the first HBCU to add triathlon at the varsity level, we are fortunate to have several USA Triathlon members from HBCU schools participating in our sport.

Here are a few of their stories.

Ouida Brown — Florida A&M University

Triathlon Experience: 1 year

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

My Godson, who was 10 at the time, texted me and asked me to come home to Mississippi to participate in a race. He knew I biked and ran. He didn’t know that I could not really swim. This was a Wednesday and the race was a Sunday. I told him I would do it the following year. So, I purchased a road bike, and started taking swimming lessons. This was in May of 2017. So, I was able to make good on my purchase, and I traveled to Mississippi in July of 2018 and completed my triathlon.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

The challenge, the other athletes and the level of fitness it provides me.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

Connect with the right people.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

It prepared me for life. My college provided me with a degree that allowed me to get a lucrative job. It provided me with the skills that allow me to navigate through life. It also provided a lifelong network that is world-wide.

 

Lloyd Henry — Oakwood University

Triathlon Experience: 16 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

After living a sedentary lifestyle for several years after college, my sister dared me to get in shape and compete in our hometown race, the St. Croix Sprint Triathlon.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

Triathlon provides a great opportunity to travel the world. I’ve finished IRONMAN races in nine countries on six continents, including the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

Stop thinking about it and just sign up. Triathlon is like recess for grownups. It allows you to do all the fun activities you enjoyed as a kid (swimming, biking and running) but on a grand scale.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

It provided an environment that fostered lifelong relationships.

 

Danielle Johnson —Southern University A&M College

Triathlon Experience: 2 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

I started my fitness journey after finding out that, due to my family history, I was prone to certain health risk factors. My friend had been participating in triathlon, so I asked her to help me run a 5k — baby steps. I aided her in starting a fitness team. After I went to spectate at her second full IRONMAN, I caught the triathlon bug. I started training right away, and three months later I completed my first triathlon — Rocketchix Triathlon. This has been about a fitness journey for me and the commitment to the process has made me a better person.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

My favorite thing is crossing the finish line and being able to celebrate with my triathlon family. In this sport you meet so many people, and then before you know it, you are traveling/supporting/racing with each other.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

I would say please give it a chance. You don't know you are missing out on. People have various reasons why they "TRI", so find out and see what your "Why" is.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

I loved mostly that my HBCU provided African Americans access to a college education. The atmosphere of community and collaboration with people who share some of the similar cultural experiences is phenomenal.

 

Damien Savage — Southern University A&M College

Triathlon Experience: 6 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

I got started in triathlon because I was looking for a new challenge. My coworker was participating in the 2013 Nations Tri and invited me to join.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

The mental challenge and discipline to train in three separate sports.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

My advice to someone thinking about giving triathlon a try is to first believe that you will finish the race. The rest of the journey is just training to finish strong.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

The culture and family-like atmosphere is what I loved most about my HBCU. The school was small enough to have a personal relationship with your professors and not feel like a number. They held you accountable and made you work for your grades.

 

Leslie Russell Winder (above, in red) — Hampton University

Triathlon Experience: 4 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

It was out of curiosity. I had started running 2 years prior and watched a couple of friends compete in their first triathlon. I knew how to swim and felt confident that I could swim the distance of a Sprint. I had a so-so bike and knew the run would be easy enough. The challenge was doing all three. My first Tri was Philadelphia in 2014 and I trained alone. But, on the day of, I had a cheer squad out like no other! What an incredible feeling of accomplishment!

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

My favorite thing about triathlons is the mix of activity, the variety of training for the swim, bike and run. You don't get bored or wear your body out with just one event.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

TRY it!! The first thing I did upon completing my first was to encourage my running friends to get in the water, and within one year they were all competing. Several have far surpassed me. This past year my sister (Tuskegee University alum) completed her first tri and she has more on the horizon.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

The family, the fellowship, the freedom to be unapologetically Black. We were encouraged, nurtured and supported. I developed lifetime relationships, and to this day it is my Hampton network that I reach out to first when in need — be it personal or professional.

 

Aaron J. Kelley — Morgan State University

Triathlon Experience: 10 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

By chance. In my late 20’s, I got tired of just running. One day, I saw a triathlon on TV.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

The competition!!! They might not be racing me, but I am always racing them.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

This is a commitment. Make sure your support system and your finances are in place.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

Being motivated, challenged and influenced by people.

 

Kelly “Khadijah” Diggs — North Carolina AT&T State University

Triathlon Experience: 6 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

I competed in my first race as part of a health initiative for my sorority.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

I love the travel.

Question: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing a triathlon?

Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Be willing to take chances.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

They not only prepared me for my career, but they prepared me for life.

 

Janelle Alexander-Sumpter — Wilberforce University

Triathlon Experience: 3 years

 

Question: How did you get started in triathlon?

Being overweight my entire life, I wanted to maintain the weight loss I had from running. I thought that triathlons would be a natural progression, especially since I knew that a few people in the community had done one. I figured I knew how to swim, so it would be easy. After taking one master swim class, I quickly realized that I could not swim the length of the pool and I had a lot of work to do. Three seasons later and six Olympic triathlons later, I love it and am so happy. At the age of 57, I discovered that anything is possible.

Question: What is your favorite thing about participating in triathlon?

I’m not great at any discipline, but I love the three of them put together. I love the variety it gives and the challenge it possesses.

Question: What did you love most about your HBCU?

I loved the family atmosphere, the teacher-student ratio and the historical background and the cooperative education opportunity.