Max Fennell was already a champion. He broke barriers, made history and inspired a new generation of athletes in his journey to becoming the first Black professional triathlete in history.
Now, he's a champion in the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament bracket too.
At the start of National Triathlon Week, USA Triathlon created an NCAA tournament-style bracket of the top 40 moments In U.S. triathlon history. We asked the multisport community to vote on their favorite ones — round by round and matchup by matchup.
After six rounds of matchups and thousands of votes from the multisport community, Fennell's moment — originally a No. 7 seed on the bracket — capped off an incredible run by winning the overall title, beating Gwen Jorgensen's 2016 Olympic Gold Medal with 70 percent of the vote in the championship.
In the journey to the top, Fennell's historic moment knocked off some truly iconic performances in triathlon's history, including the first U.S. Olympic triathlon medal won by Susan Williams, Jorgensen's historic win streak, Julie Moss' crawl across the 1982 IRONMAN World Championship finish line, and the "Iron War" in 1989 between Mark Allen and Dave Scott.
Fennell first turned to triathlon in 2011 after an MCL injury ended his dreams of playing professional soccer. By 2014, he earned in his pro card in triathlon, becoming the first Black professional triathlete in history.
Upon learning he was the champion of the #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament, he posted on social media, thanking the community and his fans for their support.
View this post on Instagram
We did it!!! Thank you to my community for helping me to get to where I am. It’s amazing to think this journey has been long and so many times I didn’t know how I could keep going but you, community, would always show up at the right time to help me keep moving forward! What more do you need to believe that you’re dreams can become a reality? Believe in yourself and never give up! Thank you, Thank You Thank you!!! -Max Fennell #Repost @usatriathlon ・・・ He broke barriers. He made history. He inspired a new generation of athletes. And today, Max Fennell Becoming the First Black Professional Triathlete is the champion of our #TriWeek Triathlon Tournament Bracket. 🏆 Congratulations, Max! 🎉 And thank you to everyone who voted for their favorite triathlon moments of all time! #TriWeek #Triathlon
Today, USA Triathlon caught up with Fennell to get his reaction on being named the community's favorite U.S. triathlon moment, what this means for the next generation of athletes and what can be done to increase diversity in the sport moving forward. Read the full Q&A below.
USA Triathlon: What was your reaction when you first saw the bracket and realized your journey was considered a top 40 triathlon moment in U.S. history?
Fennell: My reaction when I first saw the bracket was a strong sense of honor and appreciation. I was profoundly grateful for USA Triathlon's recognition of the achievement and what it signifies.
USA Triathlon: Before the tournament started, how far did you think you’d be able to go on the bracket? Did you ever imagine that you’d win the whole thing?
Fennell: Before the tournament started, I actually felt like I would do pretty well, but I was OK with making it to the second round and calling it a day. I believed I could win the whole thing because my journey is comprised of hundreds of moments where people in my community helped me to reach my goal.
USA Triathlon: On your run, you beat some of the most iconic triathlon moments of all time. That includes the first U.S. Olympic triathlon medal with Susan Williams, Julie Moss’ 1982 IRONMAN Crawl, the Iron War between Mark Allen and Dave Scott and Gwen Jorgensen’s Olympic gold medal. How surprised were you to see each victory? And what does it mean to you that our community voted for you over those moments?
Fennell: Those moments are some of the most iconic moments in triathlon history that I have drawn much inspiration from. I think after each victory, I more so felt a sense of thanks and appreciation that people believe this moment in history is seen among these other iconic moments. I actually have found it very healing that our community has voted for me because currently, society tells persons of color daily that we don’t matter. And the fact that our community voted for me tells you that we do matter. It is a lot for me to reflect on, but I feel it in my heart.
USA Triathlon: What was your first reaction when you saw you had won the tournament? And what messages have you seen from others in the community after your victory?
Fennell: I am an athlete so obviously, whenever we win there is that little yell of celebration and then I texted the photo to my close family and friends. My phone has been non-stop ringing and vibrating since the victory because so many get to celebrate the victory with me. I really see it as a victory for us all because my story is rooted in what triathlon was built around, community members helping other community members reach their goals of crossing that finish line.
USA Triathlon: How did you and others help spread the word to encourage the community to vote?
Fennell: Every time USA triathlon posted (the voting), I would repost in my story and on Facebook. I saw folks sharing the post in triathlon groups and their personal networks.
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Wow! We made it to the top four! A journey that continues to show the world the true love and support from this community. When society and a system fails to show how Black Lives Matter this community from day one has always believed in this dream and have always said that I matter. From needing a race homestay, equipment, food to eat, pre race dinner, nutrition, race experience, media interviews, money to live, coaching and mentorship. Community thank you for always believing in me and never letting me give up. I might have competed in the races but you helped me get there. If you have a moment please take a minute to vote! Link in bio! Thank you!! #blacklivesmatter ••• “The other side of the bracket has the story of the tournament so far. Max Fennell Becoming the First Black Professional Triathlete — originally seeded seventh in the Run Region — knocked off No. 1 seed Julie Moss and her '82 IRONMAN Crawl of Fame to advance to the Final Four. In Fennell's incredible run, the moment has consecutively defeated the top three seeds in the region to earn a spot in the semifinals. “ https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Triathlon/News/Articles-and-Releases/2020/June/26/Vote-in-the-Final-Four-of-the-TriWeek-Triathlon-Tournament-Bracket
USA Triathlon: Representation matters. And your journey to become the first Black pro triathlete has inspired a lot of people. What does it mean to you to see the way the triathlon community has embraced you? And what does it mean for the next generation of athletes in our sport?
Fennell: What this means to me is that our community is saying that we want to see diversity immediately reflected in the industry. That more resources should be directed in a manner that truly foster an environment of diversity and inclusion. I think what this tells the next generation of athletes is that their dream is possible but it's just going to require a lot of hard work. I think if the industry really wants to get this right, they would be making immediate efforts to identify minority young talent and commit to their journey for the next five years.
To learn more about USA Triathlon's commitment to increasing diversity in the sport, and to get involved in our mission, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
USA Triathlon: How have you seen your story have a positive impact on other people?
Fennell: My story resonates with so many people because the trials and tribulations I have gone through in the pursuit of my dream are relatable. My journey serves as a direct message to anyone who has a dream and is not sure if they should stay on the path or not. I think the pursuit of our dreams is designed this way, but certain people are placed on the path to keep you moving forward. That is why you never give up!
USA Triathlon: What’s it going to take to improve diversity in the sport?
Fennell: Truthfully, I would say the industry has missed the mark. I think the first step is listening to how it has missed the mark and then immediately addressing those issues with concrete steps and actions. I think we need to bring all of the diversity groups together to form a common coalition with the aim of direct communication with industry heads to keep the conversation going and understanding of what true diversity and inclusion looks like.
USA Triathlon: What advice would you give to young black athletes who don’t know much about triathlon but are interested in learning more?
Fennell: Reach out to someone who is involved with the sport and ask as many questions as possible. Triathletes love talking about everything triathlon and having someone give you that advice can really help you navigate the sport and figure out how to get started. I would also say do not believe the stereotypes and swim, swim, swim! Join a youth swim team or join a Masters group but start swimming with any group and swim as much as possible!
Max Fennell is an entrepreneur and elite triathlete who also starred as a Defender on the CBS Game Show, "Million Dollar Mile." To learn more about Fennell and his journey, click here.