Dukes hurdles into leadership role for Scotties’ track
Like many local track and field athletes, Aishah Dukes had only run recreationally before her freshman year at Bordentown Regional High School. But like a smaller group of runners, the senior Scottie quickly adapted to the demands of competitive racing and flourished into one of the track and field team’s most versatile members.
Dukes loved racing against boys as a child, and she knew she wanted to try track once she got to BRHS. She and Shakara Siler, a standout who graduated last year, went out for the team together and saw success fairly quickly.
But it didn’t come without an adjustment period. Head coach Brian Wheeler, who was an assistant during Dukes’s freshman season, said she was “raw” coming in, and Dukes agreed.
She lacked endurance and, like most first-time runners, wanted to stick to sprinting. Her coaches had her run the 400, which she took to almost immediately. She also tried hurdles, but after a fall, she swore she’d never try the event again. A season of cross country, though, changed that. Dukes said it was tough at first, but it helped her become a more powerful athlete once the spring season started.
“In the beginning, I didn’t really like cross country, but I wanted to get more endurance and stamina,” she said. “I just did it and stuck with it, and I got stronger because you have to be really, really strong to do cross country.”
Since then, she’s become one of the Scotties’ best all-around athletes. She’s a key member of the 4x400 relay team, which won the Burlington Country Scholastic League Patriot Division title last season, in addition to earning a Meet of Champions berth two years ago.
Dukes also decided to revisit the hurdles after the coaching staff asked her to try it last year. After two full track seasons under her belt, her results were much more ideal than her first time out. In her first season running the 400 hurdles, Dukes won the Patriot Division title, and it’s become one of her favorite events.
“I tried it, got it down, and I started to like it,” she said. “I just wanted to keep doing it because I liked it. I’m actually really hoping to break the school record this year. I’m at a 1:06, and the school record is 1:05. I’m hoping I can get it. Well, I will get it. That’s my ultimate goal.”
So far this season, Dukes and the 4x400 team ran to a second-place finish at the Hall of Fame Relays at Maple Shade High School, as well as finishing third as part of the 4x200 at the same meet. The 4x200 and 4x400 teams each finished fourth at the West Deptford Relays, and as an individual, Dukes finished 11th out of 27 runners in the 400 hurdles.
Dukes’ main races are the 400, the 400 intermediate hurdles and the 4x400 relay, though she hopes to try the shuttle hurdles at some point this season. Wheeler expects to place her in other spots—like the long jump, triple jump, sprints and middle distance relays—as needed.
He also would like to see her take on a leadership role in her final season.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids this year, kids who have never run before,” he said. “I kind of want her to be a role model for her teammates. A lot of kids that have never run before, they just want to do the sprints and that’s it. They don’t know that there’s other events they can do. Her taking that role of doing other events, the hurdles and the jumps, hopefully she can be a role model. People can identify with her and say, ‘Hey, I can be good at other things besides just sprints.”
Dukes, who is committed to run at Widener University in the fall, has embraced that role, saying she would attempt any event if the team needed her to. She wants to help the athletes who are in the same position she was as a freshman.
Often, she runs multiple events each meet, which Wheeler said can be too tiring for high school athletes. For Dukes, though, it’s not a problem, so she and her coaches are able to work on other aspects of her racing.
“Her endurance has gotten much, much better,” he said. “She’s gotten stronger, and she’s able to do three or four events a meet, which a lot of kids aren’t able to handle. She’s willing to do it, and she’s able to do it. Her endurance, her strength have gotten much better. With that, we’re going to work more on her speed this year.”
In addition to breaking the school’s 400 hurdles records, Dukes also wants to help continue the 4x400 team’s hot streak.
“I think that we can build into what we did last year and continue to be strong and keep winning,” she said.
Wheeler just wants to see her make the most of her final season at Bordentown.
“You’ve got to give it your all at every single events, every meet,” he said. “I just want her to give it her all and try to get a PR at every event she does every time she goes out and does it. She’s not just a great athlete, she’s a great student, a great person. I’m happy to have her.”