Book now for the Perinatal Period and Physical Activity Community of Learning session via the Active Sussex events calendar

Home > Black Tri Tribe founder – ‘I’m in no way what people see as a triathlete’

Black Tri Tribe founder – ‘I’m in no way what people see as a triathlete’

Two women talking, one of which is Kelly
Kelly Smith, founder of the Black Tri Tribe

Black Tri Tribe founder - 'I'm in no way shape or form what people see as a triathlete’

Kelly Smith freely admits that she is ‘in no way shape or form what people see as a triathlete’.

So it may take some people by surprise when they first meet this energetic 28-year-old who started up Black Tri Tribe (BTT) a couple of years ago, and which received its club license just over a year ago.

“I have dreadlocks, I am quite short, quite plus-sized and I do tri,” Kelly says.

The Black Tri Tribe is a triathlon Club focussed on Black and Asian engagement in the sport.

Kelly started up the initiative after realising there needed to be an easy way for people to take part in triathlons, which involve running/walking, cycling and swimming.

“When we started, it was evident to me after our first piece of research that there needed to be entry-level participation into the sport – that was the number one thing that was missing.

“The second thing the sport needed was a lot of work into aquatics – aquatic safety, aquatic competence, pool space and access,” explains Kelly.

Kelly cites two reports that made an impact on her.

The first was a report by the Black Swimmers Association, which found that 95 per cent of black adults don’t swim, and 93 per cent of Asian adults don’t swim.

The second was that British Triathlon reported only 3.2 per cent of their membership was from an ethnically diverse background in 2021 (up from 2.4 per cent in 2020).

Taking these into consideration, you can understand why Kelly feels passionate that barriers need to be broken to encourage people to take part.

“It is not that people can’t swim,” Kelly says. “A lot of people we come across have got a fear of the water, so it is not just they can’t swim.

“You have got grown adults in their 40s and 50s who are terrified of water, terrified to come to poolside, they are terrified of entering the leisure centre knowing what they are going to do.”

Yet Kelly says after coming to St Luke’s Swimming Pool in Brighton back in September/October and having ‘swimming lessons’ the participants are now taking part in full coach sessions like any other triathlete.

“They are doing laps like any other tri club,” Kelly proudly explains. “But, if we did not give them that option or that access at that entry level point we would never have got them to where they are now.

“Four of the people who swim with us at St Luke’s have signed up for the triathlon in June.

“A lot of leisure centres saw it as a conflict of interest,” she adds. “For leisure centres, swimming lessons are their cash cow so they see it as a duplicate service.

“Freedom Leisure was able to see it is more than just swimming lessons, maybe eight weeks are swimming lessons, but people are interested in getting beyond that lesson stage and are keen to get competent.”

Black Tri Tribe is hosting a triathlon on June 1 in Brighton – with swimming at Sea Lanes in Brighton, and the run/walk and cycling along the seafront.

The triathlon is open to anyone to take part in, whatever ethnic background you are from, and offers different challenges.

You can take part in the full Olympic distance – 1500m swim, 40k bike, and 10k run; a sprint distance – 400m swim, 20k bike, and 5k walk or jog; or the BTT special – 100m swim, 10k bike and 1k walk.

“Some people have never walked to the shop,” reveals Kelly. “The bus stop and back is as far as most people that take part in that BTT special have ever gone.

“Maybe they might walk to the train station, but that is about it. So a 1k walk in its entirety for a lot of people is quite a sizeable distance.”

There is also a children’s race on the day which involves a 50m swim, 1k bike, and 100m run or walk.

To find out more, visit

A black woman in cycling gear on a road bike cycling past a river
Kelly Smith, founder of the Black Tri Tribe
Skip to content