It dawned on Priscilla Westfield in the summer of 2017 that she should start taking triathlons more seriously.
At first, the sport was recreation for her. But when she qualified last summer for an international race in Australia, the 35-year-old Pooler resident started wondering how far she could go if she committed to it full time.
“The other years I just did it and did well, so I wanted to see how I would do if I actually applied myself,” Westfield said.
Westfield finished in the top 25 in her division at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in August 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska, and was listed as an alternate for the International Triathlon Union’s World Triathlon Grand Final this coming Sept. 12-16 in Gold Coast, Australia. When one of the place finishers above her backed out, she received an official invite.
“It came out of nowhere,” she said. “For a moment, I wondered how I was going to afford this, but I don’t care. I’m still going to go.”
Every day, Westfield does a combination of biking, running and swimming, capping her week with a 50-mile bike ride on Saturdays. She has a bi-monthly teleconference with a professional triathlon coach, planning her workouts and discussing strategy for her races. She also has invested in better equipment.
Now Westfield is finding her name near the top of the leaderboard in just about every race she enters. She won first overall female and finished as the second overall female in three races this summer in Jacksonville, Fla., during the Jacksonville Sprint Triathlon Series, and won her age division earlier in 2018 at the Mack Cycle Tri-Miami Florida. On Aug. 11, she placed as the first female and second overall in the Skidaway Island Sprint Triathlon.
Westfield said the biggest new discovery she’s made since she started competing at bigger races has been realizing she’s not that far behind the competition.
“It showed me that I need to not worry about the competition and just focus on my race,” she said. “All the other athletes are ripped and they have these really cool-looking bikes, but when I actually start racing, it’s like I zone in.”
The biking and running portions of the triathlon have been a learning experience for Westfield, but she’s always been a natural swimmer. At the nationals in Nebraska, Westfield’s swim was good enough to make up for her falling off course on the bike path.
Finding a way
Westfield started swimming when she was 5 years old. Growing up under two deaf parents — mother Pamela Hill and stepfather Otis “Macho” Hill — Westfield had to forge her own way in order to keep swimming.
“I had to find rides to swim practice on my own,” she said. “I had to find provisions to go to a swim meet that was out of town.”
Growing up, Westfield could turn up the volume of the TV and play music as loud as she wanted. Her parents didn’t mind.
“At home, you would assume it was quiet, but it wasn’t,” she said. “When I was angry, I would yell as loud as I wanted.”
Westfield continued swimming throughout high school. With two parents living on disability, money was tight, so when she graduated she decided to join the Army. She served for 10 years, and during that time she met her husband.
Westfield did her first triathlon while stationed in Korea, then another in 2015 at the Savannah-based event, Ride on Ryan, where she finished as the second overall female.
She competed in numerous 5K events, marathons and triathlons until her success in Nebraska opened a new door she never expected when she first took up the sport.
Westfield hopes to be a pioneer by becoming what she believes to be the first professional African-American woman in the sport. She hopes her success will inspire other black women to give the sport a try.
“I love you no matter what color you are, but I honestly get a little tired of going to every event and it’s just me,” she said.
“There are hardly any African-American triathletes. There still isn’t an African-American female professional. I said, ‘That’s going to be one of my goals.’ ”
When asked why the sport doesn’t appear to be popular among black women, Westfield pointed to her head.
“It may seem a little insignificant, but a lot of times our hair gets in the way of us doing certain things,” she said. “I think that has been a big hindrance, but now society seems to be making a turn away from relaxed hair, because with relaxed hair, the chlorine damages your hair. It seems society is making a turn for natural hair without chemicals, so if that’s the case, more black women can hopefully master swimming.”
But that never bothered Westfield growing up. She still dove right in at the pool.
“I liked swimming more than my hair, so it didn’t really matter,” she said.
Westfield started a GoFundMe account in March to help raise money for the trip to Australia. That could be the next step toward her goal, or it could be a learning experience for how far she has to go.
Either way, she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself. She never expected to qualify for Australia when she competed in Nebraska, and she’s not sure how she’ll stack up in a race that’s on an international level.
“I always have to keep a level head and not let one success or two successes get to my head, because you never know,” she said. “I do want to enjoy the experience and I know there are so many women who are faster than I am, and I want to use the trip as a learning experience. I’m going to give it all in my training and in practice each and every day so that when I do go, I know that I didn’t leave anything on the table.”