By Alex Abrams
Red Line Editorial
Marlin Newsome was first introduced to triathlons when he was flipping through TV channels as a kid and stopped on a broadcast of an Ironman competition.
“I’m watching it, and I’m like, wow, these basically are people on their own. It’s not a team accomplishment,” Newsome said. “It’s just a person in a zone pushing themself to their limit basically.”
Barbara Rivera-Fulton had never heard of triathlons until she was in her early 40s and a woman at a Starbucks told her about the sport. The woman mentioned an upcoming triathlon for only female athletes in New Orleans.
A week later, Rivera-Fulton competed in her first triathlon, the Girl Power Triathlon. She was immediately hooked despite not being able to freestyle swim for 25 yards without getting winded.
“My family in Puerto Rico were not happy at all,” Rivera-Fulton said, laughing. “They think I am crazy, that I need to act my age, that at this point in my life I (should) not be doing those types of things. They worry all the time about me.”
Rivera-Fulton, 47, and Newsome, 31, are relatively new to triathlons. They didn’t start competing in races until they both were adults, but they now spend a good portion of their lives training and traveling to triathlons around the country.
Rivera-Fulton, a New Orleans resident, competes in the 45-49 age group. Newsome, a Philadelphia native who decided to finally to enter a triathlon after training other athletes for their own races, competes in the 30-34 age group.
With their participation, Rivera-Fulton and Newsome have brought more diversity to the sport and encouraged others in their minority communities to get involved in triathlons.
Rivera-Fulton, who’s originally from Puerto Rico, follows the Black Triathletes Association group on Facebook. When she’s training for a race by biking or running, she tells other people who look Afro-Caribbean like her what she’s doing.
“When I get to the races, you will hardly see any black or brown person,” Rivera-Fulton said. “It was mostly white people, and I was intrigued like, ‘Why is it that there are so few of me or so few of us?’
“And when we saw each other, (the) very few brown people that I saw, we acknowledged each other, and we were kind of happy to see each other there. And I was thinking, ‘Why can’t this be something that other people can also experience?’”
Newsome said he was the only Black athlete in the field when he competed in his first triathlon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last year.
Newsome makes it a point to bike and run through his Philadelphia neighborhood while training. He’s the first Black triathlete that some people in his neighborhood have ever seen. He also serves as a mentor to children and teaches them about cycling.
“If you’re able to enrich a neighborhood or enrich a community with information for an alternative sport outside of the things that are propagated like basketball, football, just the basics, the sport as a whole grows,” Newsome said.
“It allows true competition among peers across the board, and it allows the sport to grow because you’re then introducing something to people who would have never invested into it.”
After competing in his first triathlon last year, Newsome decided to take a year off from racing so he could focus on training. However, just when he was about to starting competing again, the triathlons he had entered were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsome initially became interested in triathlons because he thought they could challenge him, and he said the pandemic has given him the motivation to train even harder for future races.
“Swimming in itself was a challenge, and that’s what I wanted. I like to be challenged,” Newsome said. “I like it to be more of a struggle, so the accomplishment at the end for me finishing that race was pretty much tenfold.”
Rivera-Fulton, meanwhile, has shifted her focus to Ironman competitions.
In 2017, only two years after taking part in her first triathlon, she completed a pair of Ironman races during a three-month stretch.
Rivera-Fulton finished her first Ironman competition in Santa Rosa, California, in 15:18:13. She then shaved more than two hours off her time at an Ironman race in Louisville, Kentucky, crossing the finish line in 13:05:01 despite dealing with heavy rain and large gusts of wind.
“I’ve always been a daring type of person,” Rivera-Fulton said. “When I want to do something, whether it’s because somebody dared me to or because I just want to see how it is, I try to go all out. I try to just complete it to do it.”
Rivera-Fulton said she’s still bothered, though, by the Ironman competition she couldn’t finish last year in Cozumel, Mexico.
She had to drop out of the race after being affected by the heat and jellyfish during the open-water swim, and she felt like she was watching herself struggle in “a slow-motion movie.”
“Right now, I want to try again and conquer Cozumel,” Rivera-Fulton said. “And honestly, I am not putting a time on that one. I just want to finish that one, and that is the big thing on my mind right now.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.