From weight training to high hurdling, Danielle Aromashodu is FAU’s most accomplished track athlete.

Zack Kelberman

Aromashodu, a back-to- back Sun Belt Conference champion hurdler, in prime position on the track. Photo by Michelle Friswell.
Aromashodu, a back-to-back Sun Belt Conference champion hurdler, in prime position on the track. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

I push through a pair of white metal doors and hear the sounds of weights clanging and rap music blaring in the Tom Oxley Weight Room.

“Looking for Danielle?” head track coach Alex Smolka said, pointing to a specific area of the gym. “Over there, white headband.”

I aimlessly glance around for my intended target — Danielle Aromashodu — who I couldn’t locate upon first glance in the sea of women’s track members. And then I spotted her, easily completing her initial set of power cleans, a daunting full-body exercise that requires immense balance, strength, and technique.

Simply put, daunting doesn’t apply to Aromashodu.

She’s a back-to-back Sun Belt Conference champion 400 meter hurdler, and comes from a family of athletes, including her brother, Devin, who’s an NFL wide receiver with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Hey, what’s up?” Aromashodu guardedly said as she set down the bar, her two workout partners standing aside to help her if necessary.

Their assistance wasn’t needed, though; she barely broke a sweat. It was an effortless display.

After her teammates, Lauren Walton and Ariell Burrell, gave it a go, it was my turn to step up to the plate — literally.

“You want to keep your back straight and butt out,” Aromashodu instructed.

Easy to say, apparently harder to do. My attempt wasn’t so effortless. My legs wobbled and shook as the bar thunderously hit the floor, drawing a smirk from each athlete in the vicinity.

“Let’s move on to bench press,” Aromashodu offered, much to my relief.

I held my own, but the best — or, in my case, worst — would still await me.

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Danielle Aromashodu (far right) posing next to her brother, Devin. Her parents, Dorothy and Inkey, are seen on the left. Photo courtesy of Danielle Aromashodu.
Danielle Aromashodu (far right) posing next to her brother, Devin. Her parents, Dorothy and Inkey, are seen on the left. Photo courtesy of Danielle Aromashodu.
Born in Miami, Fla., Aromashodu is the youngest in a genetically-gifted family. Her dad, Inkey, played football (though unprofessionally) and her mom, Dorothy, ran track in high school.

However, her greatest influence is her big brother, Devin, who’s spent the last seven years playing for seven different NFL teams.

As we walked along the Oxley Center’s gravelly parking lot, Danielle fondly recalled how Devin inspired her to begin running as a child.

“One day my brother urged me to go run for the Miami Northwest Express (a track club in Miami),” Aromashodu said with a hint of nostalgia. “I went out there when I was nine, and kind of stuck with it because I became good at it.”

She also used an unconventional way of sharpening her craft, involving Devin, of course.

“I’d be at my brother’s middle school and high school football games,” Aromashodu remembers, as she slowly cracks a warm-hearted smile. “I’d be running from end zone to end zone on the sideline, cheering for him and rooting him on.”

Aromashodu characterizes Devin as one of her biggest role models, a title he gladly embraces.

“It means a lot that someone looks up to me that much and it’s my younger sister,” Devin Aromashodu said. “I always wanted her to do well and I know school came first, but I’m just glad she was able to follow her dreams and able to run track in college.”

A typically stoic person, Aromashodu also has non-family members that bring her visible joy. Her eyes lit up when discussing Lauren Walton, her weight-lifting partner and roommate of three years.

Naturally, Walton and Aromashodu became best friends with an inseperable bond.

“We’re extremely comfortable around one another,” Walton said. “We know what lines not to cross, what jokes we can say. We have that connection with each other.”

Walton, who began doing 400-meter hurdles with Aromashodu as a freshman, has been privy to some entertaining, never-before-thought moments.

“She does this thing where she laughs so hard, she starts to sound like a donkey,” Walton said, failing to maintain a straight face. “One time she fell off her bike, she was laughing so hard. It was hilarious. I never knew that’s how she laughed.”

If you saw her on the track, you’d never know, either.

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Aromashodu shows UP Reporter Zack Kelberman the proper way to line up on the “blocks” for a sprint. She joked that I had trouble getting in the correct stance. Photo by Ryan Murphy
Aromashodu shows UP Reporter Zack Kelberman the proper way to line up on the “blocks” for a sprint. She joked that I had trouble getting in the correct stance. Photo by Ryan Murphy
Judgement day had finally come.

I made my debut at the track, tagging alongside Aromashodu, who displayed the same enthusiasm that got her inducted into the Reagan/Doral High School Hall of Fame.

Despite a rainy and windy afternoon, she joins her coaches — Alex Smolka and John Guarino — and teammates and begins warming up like there’s not a single cloud in the sky.

“Knees up, knees up!” Guarino shouts. “C’mon, Danielle!”

Now sporting a passionate, almost ticked off facial expression, Aromashodu starts to kick it into another gear during tempo runs and sprints, sweat falling from her all black spandex ensemble to the clay track and green grass.

It’s this type of exuberance that has coach Smolka so proud of her accomplishments.

“We’ve had previous champions but she’s the only one who’s gone back to back now,” Smolka said. “It’s extremely tough having the mark on your back to be chased. Repeating is very difficult and she’s done a very good job of it.”

Even embarrassing or painful moments don’t seem to rattle Aromashodu. She has an uncanny way of overcoming adversity with a winning result.

“Back when I was first getting a feel for hurdles in middle school, there was one time I fell through a hurdle,” Aromashodu recounts with a chuckle. “I don’t know how that’s possible, but I fell through the middle of it and skinned my whole leg. I got up laughing and finished the race and everyone was proud of me.”

Nowadays, these types of blunders are few and far in between.

Watching her glide over the row of waist-high hurdles prompted myself to give it a go. Just like with the power cleans, though, the results weren’t pretty.

“If you’re not doing it correctly, you can hurt yourself,” Aromashodu warned, just as teammate Burrell stumbled to the ground in the midst of a hurdle.

She was right.

I noticed the red, inflamed gash on my thigh from scraping the corner of the hurdle while pulling an awkward Matrix-like leg maneuver.

“You probably should’ve worn shorter shorts,” Aromashodu quipped, pointing to my baggy red gym shorts, evidently the wrong attire.

In a moment of redemption, I challenged Aromashodu to a short sprint off the “blocks” (metal devices). We got in our lanes, set our feet, and had her explain the proper stance to me.

“I never know when you’re ready,” Aromashodu jokingly said. “You keep lining up wrong.”

Following a few mini (failed) tutorials, we took off. To absolutely no one’s surprise, she blew past me, as I struggled to maintain my balance.

I finished with a bruised knee, as well as a banged up thigh. Unfortunately for me, there was no bench press — or silver lining — this time around.

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Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Photo by Ryan Murphy.
Aromashodu is, currently, FAU’s most decorated track athlete, as evidenced by her back-to-back conference titles and Hall of Fame high school status.

But she also sets her sights on bigger pictures.

Fascinated with bones and muscles, she would like to eventually become an orthopedic surgeon.

Failing that, Aromashodu aims to one day compete in the Olympics, the grandest stage for her sport and, according to her peers, a much more achievable goal.

“Looking at her ability, I think she definitely would have a shot,” Smolka said, when asked if Aromashodu could become an Olympian. “As long as she keeps working hard, definitely.”

“I really feel like she can make it to the Olympics,” Walton emphatically said. “She’s a good person and good athlete all over. I’m going to be there supporting her.”

Nevertheless, Aromashodu hasn’t lost sight of what got her to this point: her tight-knit family, supportive every step of the way.

“Everything we do involves athletics,” she said. “My family is very supportive of my athletic life, and they constantly traveled to see me in high school and now college.”

Put simply, however, there’d be no conference championships, no Hall of Fame awards, no immense amount of respect from her fellow teammates if it weren’t for her big brother.

This would be cause for sibling rivalry in most households, but not the Aromashodu’s.

“I don’t think she can outrun me,” her brother said. “But I’d probably let her win anyway.”