Due to be born prematurely and very underweight, Olympic gold medalist and world-class triathlete Sika Henry competed in our Northwest Triathlon on April 15. A day after the race, because of what she has overcome to live a full life, she will become one of the first athletes (pro or amateur) to compete for $500,000, a women’s Triple Crown prize, at the Arc de Trios (overwater, mountain triathlon and ocean Triathlon) in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
A motivation to be a pro athlete
My mother wanted a little girl, and had a few genetic tests done. The tests came back and showed me I had a low birth weight of 1.2 pounds, and I was also diagnosed with agenesis of the corpus callosum, which means I do not have a normal brain. I was just over four pounds.
A background in basketball and field hockey left me disabled, and I had a kid, a teen and then graduated high school. After graduation, I joined the Army National Guard, but wasn’t able to have any more kids, because after that decision I would’ve had to be deployed.
The decision to transition was the last straw. I was like, “Whoa.” There was not a childhood. I had too many obstacles, I never had a family to love me. I went through about six months in another unit where I was the only African-American female who was in this unit, and the experience was so bad. My father and I were apart and my father did not want to come home.
He started a long con against my mother, talking to my teacher and telling them that she was an alcoholic and an alcoholic mother. Then he would get an order, leave, and would not come back. He also kept our mother away from me. We would never see him, but he was always watching. He started looking for me to train with me. He would say to me, “It’s my job to train for you and make sure you get to the base and we get to the end.”
Mom would go out and get work to pay the bills, which was not easy for her. At that point, I would just go with the flow. She never really complained or raised her voice. When I would work out, she would wait in the parking lot until I was done and they would have coffee. Then she would give me a hug, give me some chocolate chip cookies and then we would go have a nap together.
We finally separated when my dad turned 30, that’s how I was able to travel to see him and watch him compete. I would go when he was done, walk him home. I would spend the night.
I never expected to even see my dad ever again. I just watched him compete. I became more active in other sports to help me meet other people and create some type of community in the Army. But it was all about going to training for me. I was going to work out anyway. I had no other choice. I felt like I was supposed to be getting a strong core. It was not about going to golf or swimming in the pool. It was about training, and I’d do anything to meet the military goals I had.
I quit school for three weeks so I could train. I came home and joined the (O.E.A.R.D.) program in Seattle, (military Youth Development and Inclusion) and could not believe how open, kind and supportive everyone was. That is when I knew I had found my home. It was a unique program because we did martial arts at the same time. I joined the U.S. Army ROTC and was ready to go to ROTC school in Washington, but a friend of mine who was a cop told me that was a no-no. I could join the military, but it was mandatory that I keep out of law enforcement if I wanted to continue being a major in the O.E.A.R.D. program. I knew that was not for me. I liked helping people, and I enjoyed the combat training, so I couldn’t tell them not to join.
Being gay was always something that I thought about. I didn’t really understand why it wasn’t something like any other part of society. Coming out and living an openly gay life, I had a lot of friends who would say, “Let’s go to a gay bar.” That is how I met this guy who was a veteran. We started going to gay bars and dance clubs