A Bay Area personal trainer is competing at races around the country as the nation’s only black professional triathlete.
Twenty-eight year old Max Fennell hits the ground running every morning at 4 a.m. before heading to Equinox gym in Palo Alto where his shift ends around 8 p.m. Fennell is the only licensed black professional who competes in triathlons across the United States, according to the Black Triathletes Association.
"I think it’s pretty heavy actually, because not only do I have the pressure on myself of wanting to do well, and you know I have high hopes and goals for myself, but I also want to represent for any young kids that might be aspiring to become a professional athlete," Fennell said.
Fennell has been a multi-sport athlete since he was young. He wrestled, played lacrosse, and at Delaware Valley University in his home state of Pennsylvania he ran track and played soccer. But a devastating injury nearly six years ago almost ended his sports career.
"When I was training to become a professional soccer player, I sprained my MCL two weeks before the tryouts, and then I kind of fell into a little bit of a depression," Fennell said.
He happened to be working at a coffee shop at the time and a customer, who was a local businessman, gave him his old triathlon bike and suggested he compete. Fennell placed seventh in his age group during one of his first races, and later that year finished first place in another race.
"We just thought, maybe this is something I should pursue," Fennell said.
In August 2014 he placed third overall in a race in Iowa, qualifying him for a professional triathlon license from USA Triathlon and officially making him the only black professional triathlete.
These days he’s working with a coach and spending as much time training as he can. In one week he estimates he runs 25 to 30 miles, bikes 140 to 160 miles, and swims over 12 miles.
"This is a sport where to be the best in the world, or to be the best at a race, you have to be an elite athlete in three different sports," Fennell said.
While Fennell might be the only black professional triathlete, there are hundreds of black triathletes who compete in various races around the county. Fennell is a member of the Black Triathletes Association, which encourages and empowers athletes. According to BTA, African-Americans compose 1 percent of 550,000 athletes who compete in multi-sport events.
Fennell says he has Olympic aspirations, but for now wants to continue to train hard and perform well at upcoming races. He plans to compete in the Stanford triathlon in March.
He is also working to create avenues for more black athletes to compete in triathlons. Fennell says he’s training a young man who wants to represent Zimbabwe in the 2020 Olympics.