BUILT FOR SPEED: Want a lesson in genetics? Watch Mathue Duhaney come off the starting blocks. In the pool or on the track, the Vassar sophomore waits on the blocks like a coiled spring and then explodes in a lethal burst of speed.
At 5-foot-11, he is by no means tall for a swimmer, but he compensates with a 6-foot-5 wingspan and one of the finest builds Vassar athletics has ever seen. As a freshman, he helped set a Vassar record in the four-man 200-yard freestyle relay. This season, he won the 50 freestyle event in the Liberty League Championships in 21.81 seconds, just .29 seconds away from the Vassar record he fully intends to demolish (Steve Martin, 1995).
From Kingston, Jamaica, Duhaney grew up in a country obsessed with track and listened to his father’s stories about competing with Olympic runners in high school. However, track was not for him. His parents tried him at several sports, but finally settled on swimming, he says, because it was the most effective at depleting his overabundance of energy. “They knew I would come home and fall asleep and not annoy the living daylights out of them,” says Duhaney. His father recognized his talent at a young age, but it took Duhaney a bit longer. “I never thought I was fast or thought much of swimming until I made the national squad in Jamaica.”
As a runner, Duhaney is a diamond in the rough. “I always loved running,” he says, “but I was never fast enough for my elementary school team.” With no prior experience, he walked onto the track team at Vassar. He won the second 200-yard dash of his career in 23.56, and he’s currently third all-time at Vassar in the 100-meter dash at 11.57 seconds, just .37 away from Josh Weinstein’s 1995 record of 11.2. With his barrel-chested, compact build, “he’s clearly a very powerful runner with a lot of drive,” according to head track coach James McCowan ’97. Duhaney has all the physical tools to excel in both sports, and McCowan wants no part in capping his potential: “The sky is the limit.”
If his parents had their way, Duhaney would have stayed in Jamaica to study medicine and become a doctor. But after talking to a friend who recommended Vassar, Duhaney became interested in the idea of a liberal arts education. He looked up Vassar online and was enamored after just a few clicks. “I was interested in photography at the time, and I was amazed because we have the prettiest website ever,” recalls Duhaney. What sold him on Vassar was knowing that he would be able to compete at a high level athletically and, at the same time, satisfy his intellectual hunger with a variety of subjects outside of his pre-med track. While he still hopes to become a doctor one day, he says his parents won’t complain as long as he gets a PhD in something.
Duhaney’s speed on land and in water is more than physical. It’s a mindset. Because short races require flawless execution, Duhaney refines his technique by obsessively studying the world’s fastest swimmers and runners, people like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. “I will sit on YouTube for a good two hours and watch the same video over and over,” he says.
Duhaney has two kinds of focus to find “the zone.” For YouTube or chemistry, his focus is broad, and his attention lasts for hours. Sprinting, on the other hand, requires a narrow, intense focus for a matter of seconds. These short bursts of focus and activity drain him physically and mentally. There is no half-speed. Duhaney sums up his mentality, “I’m a sprinter through and through.”