St Catherine High's Duffus tells how the javelin changed her life

Sports

St Catherine High's Duffus tells how the javelin changed her life

BY PAUL A REID
Observer writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 09, 2020

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ST Catherine High's track and field captain Ashley Duffus took up the javelin two years ago in what might have been her last chance at mastering a track and field event and thus contribute to her school.

She had tried just about everything else, including the sprint hurdles which she calls “my best friend”, and had run a leg on the medley relay team at the ISSA Champs while in Class Three — but that was as close as she came to making the team. That was until the javelin changed her life.

Winning the ISSA Champs Javelin Throw Open in 2019, and also the CARIFTA Trials Under-20 event in March this year, changed everything for her.

Duffus was due to leave the island on Thursday, August 6, to take up a full scholarship at Northwestern State University, an NCAA Division 1 college in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The Greater Portmore resident, who has been captain of the St Catherine High girls' team since 2017 and whose personal best marks are 43.94m in the javelin and 12.03m in the shot put, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday she was thrilled to get the opportunity.

“For me, getting a scholarship means a lot, especially when I take a look at where I am coming from and to see where I am right now,” she said.

“It honestly still does not feel real to me, but the reality is that it happened; it happened to me. I am getting the chance to obtain my college degree and my parents do not have to lift a finger to cover the rest of [my] academic career. This feeling is so priceless and almost unexplainable because I am the first in my whole family to be awarded a full scholarship. I have made them so proud, and just seeing that alone brings me so much joy to know that, 'Hey, you did this,' ” Duffus shared.

The 13th-grader did not get to do the SAT, as the test was first suspended then cancelled before she could sit it, but had done well enough in her schoolwork and external exams to earn the waiver the NCAA had put in.

Duffus, who scored over the minimum 2.3 grade point average and who plans to pursue communications with a focus in multimedia broadcast journalism and a minor in business administration, attained three grade ones in the CSEC, four grade twos and a grade three; and in the CAPE she got a grade two, two grade threes, and a grade five.

For someone to have taken up the javelin and done so well in such a short time, there had to be some sacrifices and a lot of hard work.

“It was through hard work and dedication I managed to perfect my craft,” Duffus said.

“I was always working, always doing extras, always asking questions and trying to understand what can I do to get better. There was this one time when I sketched a training area for the shot put in my front yard and I practised almost every morning before I went to school. I got up early and I put in the work because I was hungry to improve. I listened to my coaches and followed instructions I was given,” she said.

Asked why she thought she did so well in the javelin and not the other events, despite all her efforts she said, “I have entitled my story God bless the broken road that led me straight to you...

“It all started with a girl having a dream of one day becoming someone great. That dream was injected by the stories of Olympic and World champions Shelly-Ann and Usain Bolt.

“But it was soon hanging on by a thread depending on a 'life machine' to survive. After five years of hard work it felt like I unplugged the machine. It felt like there was nothing left to fight for, and the only reason I stayed connected to that machine was because year after year different parts of me cracked open and that allowed for hope to shine in; but in the blink of an eye I lost it all.

“It was now my first year of sixth form and I made up in my mind that I was not going back on the track team. I was so hurt, so broken, so discouraged. I stumbled through that season like a zombie, with the heart of a lion in the body of a human being fully dependent on my brokenness to give me a glimpse of hope and faith. I cried a lot because I never understood — why me? I was working hard continually for a whole of five years and reaped nothing,” Duffus reflected in an emotional outpouring.

“It just never made sense, [as] I was so broken yet filled with so much positivity and determination. Did all my hope and faith not leak and escape through my brokenness? The answer is no. Physically, I did not feel like there was anything else to do or try, but something on the inside just would not allow me to give up. The fire inside me burned brighter than the zombie figure on the outside. In my eyes I was more broken than faithful, but God saw beauty in my brokenness and faith small enough to move mountains. I gave God something to work with, and because of my faith and determination I ended that broken season a champion. It pays to not give up on God and your abilities to achieve your dreams,” she continued in her heartbreaking flashback on her struggles as an athlete.

Failing at the other events, Duffus said, set her up for success in the javelin.

“I believe that the other events were a build-up to where I am right now, and I went through all of [it] for a reason. I loved hurdles [as] it was my best friend, but I was afraid of the speed and attacking the hurdle. My mind was always like 'The hurdles might just attack you back,' ” she laughed.

“But in spite of loving it, I believe I never made it in those events because they were just not for me. There was always a fear as well. Compared to the javelin or the shot put, I am alone in the area and there is less pressure,” she noted.

After finishing 11th in the javelin at Champs in 2018 with 27.78m in the final following a throw of 31.88 in the preliminaries, Duffus said she went into Champs 2019 confident as she had not lost any of her competitions in the lead-up.

“To be very honest with you, it was not a big surprise to me because I sort of expected it. Why? Because leading up to the championships I never lost a competition so that really boost[ed] my confidence, and all I had to conquer was my nerves.

“I still never got complacent or felt like nobody could not beat me because I never underestimate my opponents — but I just never doubted myself. I believed in what I was training so hard for and I believed in God to finish the good work that he started in me,” she said.

“After the competition and I realised that I really won, I was so grateful. Words could not explain what was going on through my mind [as] I made everyone proud. I finally gave my school some points [and] there was just so much fireworks going on in my mind and heart. I was just so grateful and happy,” she went on.

Last year she qualified third from the preliminaries with 37.43m, taking just two throws, and blew away the field in the finals by winning with her first throw of 40.79m — and even her third-best effort that day would have won the competition.

She placed second at the Central Championships this year, her first loss in almost a year, beaten by St Jago High's Jewel Collins who was fourth at Champs last year. Duffus said despite her consistency and success, she did not go into the CARIFTA Trials thinking she was the favourite.

“I was more confident but physically, I was discouraged because I was battling with injuries and it just never felt like I was going to get better in time for CARIFTA. I was also worried because Champs would have been a week after,” she said.

“However, despite the odds, God made a way through the leaders of the team [as[ they did everything in their power to support me and get me ready for the big day. Therefore, by the time it was a day before my competition, I was ready. That has been my best competition. I also marked it as one of the most meaningful days in my life so far,” Duffus beamed.

She stepped up with her personal best to beat Collins (43.07m) and another St Jago athlete Latavia Galloway (938.73m), setting up what was expected to be a battle at Champs.

Like a lot of other battles this one was not to be as Champs was cancelled. Duffus expressed mixed feelings about Champs being called off.

“Honestly, when it was first announced I just brushed it off; I shunned the thought of feeling robbed every time it came up. I tried to play off the 'Everything happens for a reason', and I understood why it had to be cancelled. I tried so hard to keep it together because, as the captain, I had to be supporting and staying strong for the rest of my teammates,” she said.

That act never lasted very long, Duffus said, admitting: “One day I was at home and I was having one of those alone with your thoughts moments, and I remember messaging one of the alumni and telling her how the reality finally hit me of 2020 Champs being cancelled, and I was so hurt. I cried so much, especially when I was looking into it and realising that after training so hard for so long...my goal was the record and that just slipped through my fingers, so I really did feel like I was robbed.”

Duffus's sights are now set on other goals as she heads to Northwestern State.

“I am expecting to work harder than I used to, meet new people on the journey, achieve twice as much as I did before I started Northwestern State, and to just continue do myself and everyone around me proud,” she concluded.


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