Durango High School senior Kathleen Duft is about to finish high school and earn the diploma she worked so hard to receive. She also worked hard on the track for the Demons and continues to improve as the top hurdler on the DHS squad. Though the school year is wrapping up and Duft has likely run her last race of another grueling season, the real work is about to begin.
Duft’s goal is to join the California Polytechnic State University track and field team as a walk-on. She has been accepted to her long-time dream school in San Luis Obispo, California, and she’s not ready to hang up the spikes. Earlier this year, Duft wrote an introductory email to her future school’s coaching staff expressing her interest in running in college. She wasn’t sure that she would get a response, but the email she got changed her summer plans in a hurry.
“I wrote to the coaches to basically just let him know that I was accepted to school there, I love to run and I want to keep running,” Duft said. “It was a shot in the dark but all I wanted was a chance. I was sitting in class when I got the email back, and I think I made some kind of weird noise when I read it.”
Assistant coach Danny Williams responded with straight-forward honesty – and an opportunity. He let Duft know that her times were a bit shy of what their girls run in her specialty of 100 and 300 hurdles. He also made clear that she would be committing herself to roughly two hours of hard work every day as a member of the team. However, if she was willing to put in the work this summer to drop her times significantly and arrives to school in shape and ready to go, they’ll give her a chance to prove herself in a fall tryout.
“I have a training plan already laid out for the summer and it’s going to be a lot of work,” she said. “We’ll do weight training and a lot of running. I’m hoping to fine tune my technique a bit and I think going down in elevation will help.”
Demons head coach David McMillan insists Duft is still improving. Though she missed state qualifying by 1.72 seconds in the 300 hurdles, she’s headed in the right direction. She won the 300 hurdles competition with a time of 49.69 at last weekend’s Tiger Invitational in Grand Junction and took second in the 100. The week before, she finished third in the 300 hurdles with a personal-best time of 49.42 and third in the 100 hurdles with a time of 17.33.
“Kathleen is in the right place to fulfill this dream of hers,” McMillan said. “She just has to cut down her times by a few seconds, and I think that’s certainly within reach. If she puts in the work and the coaches there have the opportunity to see how valuable she is to a team, how hard she works and how much she cares about her teammates, they might have a hard time saying no.”
McMillan has enough faith in Duft’s work ethic to let her run practice. He nominated her for the U.S. Army award – an award given to the student-athlete who goes above and beyond the call of duty – at this year’s DHS award banquet, and Duft won. She is a team captain, member of the National Honors Society and plans to study kinesiology at Cal Poly.
“She just stands out in so many ways,” McMillan said. “I let her run the workouts and the kids would do exactly what they were supposed to be doing. She is completely focused and dedicated to improving herself and the whole hurdles team.”
For this reason, Duft will accompany her fellow Demons to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s 4A state meet beginning Thursday. She is an alternate in two events and can’t wait to watch her teammates compete.
“It’s pretty upsetting to not have qualified, but I was super close and I’m right there,” she said. “I’m really excited for my team. I feel like I’ve grown up with all of them so it’ll be great to see them perform one last time for a chance to win state. Then it’ll be time for me to get back to work.”