Vantiel Elizabeth Duncan, 25, is a strong Maine woman, both physically and mentally.
She’s the second-most decorated female athlete in Bates College track and field history, with six-All American titles for throwing in shot put, weight throw and hammer. She was nominated for an NCAA Woman of the Year award in 2010. She’s coached track and field at both her former high school, Mount Ararat in Topsham, and her once-rival, Brunswick High School. Duncan even set up a throwing clinic for younger children while still at Bates.
But it’s not just her athletic feats that brought her to Syracuse University, where she is taking some classes and waiting to be accepted into a dual masters’ degree program in international relations and public administration at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, a top school for public administration.
Duncan is not just about athletic feats. She has researched every option she’s been presented with and taken advantage of every opportunity along the way. The product of a single-parent household, this Topsham native recently modified her goals from becoming the best person she could be, to helping others in her community to become the best version of themselves.
At Bates, she was a well-respected athlete among her peers, and also a member of the band and chorus. She majored in politics with a minor in Chinese and music.
“One of the main things that has stuck with me through all my education is making sure I’m not only a participant in society, but I am also helping those around me find the right resources, the right events, the right what have you, to help them out,” says Duncan. “In my view, if those who are in poverty or are lower class are struggling, we are all, as a community as struggling. We are only as strong as our weakest link.”
Duncan is proud of her athletic accomplishments, but it’s talking about her accomplishments for the local community that really get her smiling.
During her senior year in 2010 at Bates, Duncan started the Bates throwing clinic, using the Bates coaches, athletes and equipment to invite those who wanted to learn more about the sport to be able to learn from nationally ranked athletes.
“It was after my first visit to nationals my freshman year. I looked at my award and said, ‘OK, I’m a local, there’s no reason that the knowledge and the resources we have should not be spread out into the community, not just Lewiston, not just Auburn. We could benefit the mid-coast and beyond,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s long-term project is starting an international nonprofit called “Be Proud … Like a Girl,” inserting different adjectives into the ellipses, such as “Be Proud, Throw Like a Girl.”
“The aim is empowering girls to set the bar higher in male roles by learning science, technologies, engineering, math – things that are stereotypically male focused,” Duncan said.
The idea came to Duncan from her first job after college, working as a paralegal at a law firm in New York City, a position she took to “test out the waters” to see if she wanted to invest the time and money in law school. Soon after getting there, Duncan noticed a lack of females at the firm, saying the only women she saw working at a higher level than hers was the office administrator and two lawyers, one who left a few months after Duncan joined the practice and one who took maternity leave soon after joining.
She also realized becoming a lawyer was not for her.
“I loved sense of advocacy [working in law], but I’d be looking at cases and know everything about people’s financial history, I’d know everything about them, but I didn’t know them,” Duncan said.
After a year living in a New York City Young Women’s Christian Association public housing complex, Duncan decided it was time to move on and applied for a position with the AmeriCorps VISTA national service program.
AmeriCorps accepted her and, out of all places she could have ended up, Duncan was brought back to Maine, in Brunswick.
There she started a community project at Brunswick High School, inviting local nonprofits and businesses in to talk to the students about their future options. Duncan also worked on a class that taught students real-world skills that included how to do their taxes and talk to people during interviews.
“As a product of a single parent family, the stress of hard work and dedication definitely influenced me and my way of making sure everyone around me is OK,” Duncan said.