Favorite athlete: Serena Williams
Favorite team: Philadelphia Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: I don’t have a specific memory, but I enjoy spending time with my team and joking around together.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: The funniest thing to happen is a couple of years ago we went to Quakertown for a track meet, and it rained that day so the field was very muddy, and they made me take my shoes off and run in the mud to get the discs.
Music on mobile device: The music I have on my phone differs, but it’s mainly early 90s or early 2000s.
Future plans: Going to school at York College for nursing and track and field. I plan on being a nurse for the geriatric population.
Words to live by: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” –Confucius
One goal before turning 30: Be a registered nurse on a neuro floor and take over my family charity where we send clothes, food, essentials to the disabled, orphans and people in need in Ghana.
One thing people don’t know about me: I was born in Ghana, West Africa.
By Ed Morrone
Yaa Aye-Danquah became a shot put and discus thrower on the track team because, according to the Upper Moreland senior, she’s no good as a runner.
Plenty ironic considering the distance she’s covered to get here in the first place.
Aye-Danquah will continue her throwing career at the next level when she attends York College of Pennsylvania in the fall; but first, it is necessary to look back on just how she got here, a remarkable story in itself.
Aye-Danquah was born in Ghana, a nation of 30 million people off the western coast of Africa. She came to the United States in December of 2008 when she was just eight years old, along with her mother, sister and grandmother, the latter of whom later returned to the family homeland. Aye-Danquah’s mother is a preacher, and the family’s most sacred responsibility is the charity they have run since 2012 in which they ship clothes, food and essentials to the disabled, orphans and people in need in Ghana, according to Yaa.
Quite simply, Aye-Danquah is fully aware of the opportunity she was given by coming to the United States as a child, something millions of other Ghanaians never will have the chance to do. As a result, Aye-Danquah seized control of her chance, becoming a captain of both the Upper Moreland track and tennis teams, and becoming a quintessential leader in her school community at a level that has stunned her teachers and coaches.
“We arrived on to the tennis court the same day,” said Upper Moreland head tennis coach Kristin Summers, who was an assistant at Central Bucks South before taking the head job at UM when Yaa was a freshman. “It has been an honor and a privilege to watch her grow from a quiet freshman who didn’t say much into a beautiful young woman and amazing human being.”
Summers then launched into a Aye-Danquah anecdote illustrating not only how her star player supports her own teammates, but the girls on the opposing team as well: during a match at a SOL rival school during Aye-Danquah’s junior year, all the matches had ended except for one straggling singles match. Upper Moreland was on the road, so they had to wait to leave as a team, but the home players left once they finished competing. So, Summers said, Aye-Danquah made sure that the opponent had the support needed to get through the match.
“It just speaks such volumes to her character as a person,” Summers said.
When asked about the incident in question, Aye-Danquah remembered it vividly, and offered a startingly sweet explanation for springing into action when the girl on the other team needed a hand.
“Everybody deserves at least one person encouraging them, even if it’s just to say, ‘Good shot,’” Aye-Danquah said. “It doesn’t matter if the person is on a different team, or if we win or lose the match, because we still have to play. So every time she made a point, I told her that she was doing really good. After the match, she came up to me and thanked me and gave me a hug. That was special, because I felt like I got to do something for someone, even if she wasn’t on my team.”
That says all you need to know about Aye-Danquah as a person, someone who has done everything she can to pay forward the opportunity she has been given by passing the goodwill onto others. Sports were a natural outlet for her leadership abilities, and she began competing in seventh grade; by the time she got to Upper Moreland, she was ready for varsity competition in both of her sports.
On the tennis court, Aye-Danquah played doubles her first three years, gradually working her way through the ranks until she got the opportunity to play singles as a senior captain. She may be going to college to continue her track and field career, but Aye-Danquah has a soft spot for tennis, a sport she said she picked up from her father, a skilled player in his own right back in Ghana.
“This year I had the chance to play singles and I took it and loved it,” she said. “Tennis is my favorite sport to play. When I’m playing and playing well, it’s a different feeling. You need to be mentally strong to succeed. When I hit a really pretty, powerful ball with my forehand, there’s nothing like it.”
As far as how she became a thrower, Aye-Danquah simply said that running was not her forte. She tried in middle school, but the experience left her wanting to bring something else to the table for the track team that did not involve running long distances. On the suggestion of her eighth-grade gym teacher, Aye-Danquah decided to give it a go. After all, what was the worst that could happen?
As for what makes a successful shot put and discus thrower, Aye-Danquah kept it pretty simple: practice, practice, practice.
“It starts with the self,” she said. “If you’re not prepared, you won’t throw good. You can’t just show up and throw, so for me it starts in the offseason. I would go to my coaches and ask for workouts; my throwing coach, his son is on the football team, so he gave me those workouts. I would be in the gym by myself four times a week to get strong.
“From November until March, it was all I was doing. Whenever I didn’t have classes, I’d go to the track to throw. Even if it was the winter and three degrees outside, or it was raining, I’d be out there throwing in a jacket. I didn’t want to not put the best version of myself out there. You have to put the work in, especially when it’s not necessary. Even if it’s raining, or the weekend, go out there and throw.
Aye-Danquah has the SOL championships to look forward to, and even though she’s committed to throw in college, she’s taking nothing for granted. When asked about her goals, she again kept it simple.
“I still think that I’m not where I want to be, but that’s because you can never really be all the way there,” she said. “You have to keep going. There’s never a destination, because there’s always a way to improve. There’s a lot more I need to learn and perfect. There’s a certain number I’m shooting for, but I also need to continue to prepare myself for the collegiate level.”
Count Upper Moreland head track coach Doug Smith as another of Yaa’s many admirers.
“Awesome kid, awesome person,” Smith said. “She’s a hard worker, one of the hardest I’ve seen; she’s tough on herself, but that’s only because she wants to push herself to do the best she can. She wants that not only for herself, but for her teammates and opponents too. With her leadership, it’s like having another coach around. I’m going to be so sad to see her go. She brightens your day just by smiling and saying hello.”
Soon Aye-Danquah’s high school track career will reach its conclusion, and shortly after that, she will graduate and receive her diploma. Then, this fall, she will be off to York College, one of three schools she applied to in addition to La Salle and East Stroudsburg.
She loved the small but beautiful campus, wanting to go to a school where she could get one-on-one attention and not “feel like a stranger at my own school.” In addition to throwing for the York track team, Aye-Danquah plans to study nursing, wanting to lend aid to geriatric patients who need all of the help and compassion they can get at that stage of their lives.
“If you told me I’d be throwing in college at the end of last season, I would have said you were lying,” she said. “I was about to quit track forever because I was so frustrated I couldn’t get the numbers I wanted. The beginning of this year, I just decided to push myself and become the best version of myself. But I never imagined it.”
As for her desire to care for the elderly, it was not surprising to hear Aye-Danquah’s reasoning, especially after listening to her speak as well as hearing the genuine selfless qualities that her coaches praised effusively.
“I’m part of a school program that volunteers at Abington Hospital, and one day we were in the emergency room and I hated it,” she said. “I don’t like the fast pace of seeing a patient for a couple of hours and then moving along. I want to make a connection with a person and monitor the progress and change in them. Watching them improve with each passing day, that’s very important to me.”
Not only does Aye-Danquah have her sights set on giving back by becoming a nurse, but she also wants to continue the philanthropic spirit that is fostered in her family. The charity that her mother started to give back to the people of Ghana - well, Aye-Danquah wants to take that over someday when the time is right.
“My mom, she takes donations that she gets and she goes to Sam’s Club and buys big boxes of rice and candy and other essentials like clothes before shipping it back to Ghana,” she said. “We send to orphanages, as well as the disabled and underprivileged who can’t afford it or don’t have access. They live in misery, so we do this for them. I’ve had a job since 2016 and every paycheck I receive, I take 10 percent and add that to the donations my mom receives. Wherever I go, I tell people that if they have clothes or shoes they don’t need, there is someone in Ghana who needs it more.
“No one wants to have a family member or someone they know be in a hole they cannot get out of. It could be a physical hole because they are sick and can’t move, or maybe it is a financial hole or a hunger hole. Everyone has a purpose, and to help these people who cannot help themselves is mine. In Ghana, nobody asks to be an orphan or disabled or underprivileged, so if I am privileged enough to help, then there is no reason I shouldn’t.”
It is clear in talking to Aye-Danquah that she simply is not like most kids her age. Her life experience was just different than kids who grow up in America, whether they are affluent or not. Aye-Danquah left Ghana as a child, but she was still old enough to form memories, and she has the struggles of her people back home burned into her mind. She may have gotten the chance at a better life in the United States, but she is acutely aware that there are millions of others who will not. While she can’t help every single one of them, Aye-Danquah is determined to do everything in her power to assist as many as she can. It’s her responsibility, and she knows it.
In a few months, Yaa Aye-Danquah from the Western African nation of Ghana will be off to college. She will continue to throw the discus and shot put and she will get her degree in nursing, and even if the universe is not aware of it, its people will be better off if they cross paths with Aye-Danquah, who had the time of her life the last four years and cannot wait to see what’s next for her.
“I’ll miss everything about Upper Moreland,” she said. “There were times where I couldn’t wait to get out and leave, but when I think about it, this is the place who changed who I was. Half of my life I spent in Ghana, and the other half was here. From the time I was eight until now, everything I’ve seen and learned has shaped me into the person I am, the person I am trying to be.
“All of these people, I will remember them. They taught me what was important, and left their print on me that has changed my life.”