Stories of Service: Airman to Olympian

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Less than 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces. A much smaller percentage can call themselves an Olympian. Senior Airman Kenia Sinclair, a religious affairs Airman assigned to the 628th Air Base Wing Chapel at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, is a four-time Olympian, representing Jamaica, who traded her title of professional athlete for Airman.

“My passion for running led to an escape from struggles and hardship,” Sinclair said.

At age 10, her father passed away and her mother left, forcing Sinclair and her twin to live with friends before moving to America in 1999. The twins started running to cope with the extreme hardships they faced at a young age. During high school, they were recruited to run at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.

After competing in four Olympic Games and signing a six-year contract with Nike, Sinclair made a promise to herself.

“In the back of my mind, I told myself I would serve the country that paved the way for my success,” Sinclair said. “I was able to go to college, my tuition was paid for with an athletic scholarship, and I was able to buy a house and my dream car. America did all this for me.”

Sinclair decided to give back by joining the U.S. Air Force.

Transitioning from Olympian to Airman may seem like a stretch, but Sinclair disagrees. She compares the two careers, saying that the common ground is discipline, integrity and determination.

On the track, her philosophy is, “If I put my mind to it, I’m going to do it. As a young girl I learned that if I’m mentally strong, I can overcome anything that comes my way.”

Now in the Air Force, Sinclair takes the same approach.

“I always strive to do my job to the best of my ability, failure is not an option,” she said.

The 12-time All-American athlete began serving in 2020, joining just before she hit the age cutoff.

“I wish all of my Airmen had her drive,” said Tech. Sgt. Stacy Tharpe, 628th ABW noncommissioned officer in charge of religious affairs. “She’s willing to assist at any moment, which is infectious. Her attitude motivates the Airmen around her.”

Sinclair’s leadership describe her as being driven, compassionate and as having a heart of gold.

“I'd promote her to Technical Sergeant tomorrow if I could,” said Lt. Col. Zachary Nash, 628th ABW senior chaplain.

In her job as a religious affairs Airman, Sinclair can share her determination with others.

“You will have people tell you that you will not amount to anything,” Sinclair said. “But I made it, and I want to show other Airmen that their circumstances do not define them. I know that my life experiences are touching Airmen who have gone through similar things.”

When asked about her future, Sinclair said, “I’m applying for a commission, and I promise you, I’ll serve the country for as long as possible.”