NORTH LIBERTY — There all kinds of athletes in this world.
You have those who go with the flow and refuse to put in the extra work. You those who are naturally good at what they do, but only meet the expected requirements.
Then there’s the cream of the crop, the scarce few who rise above the fine line of expected and conquer what is theirs.
These are champions and, at times, champions face adversity — and overcome it.
Ashlyn Keeney, who recently wrapped up her sophomore cross country season at Liberty, is that type of person.
Keeney has placed first in nearly every race she’s run, except in the state meet, where she placed second while still bettering the state record time.
During the summer, doctors found an amoeba (a single celled organism) in Keeney’s right eye, taking her out of her cross country training for two weeks. No running, no physical activity — just sitting at home.
“That really took a bunch of my training time and made me lose some ground that I already gained,” Keeney said.
Throughout the season, many saw Keeney running her races with a pair of sunglasses. This is because of the infection in her eye, which could have potentially left her blind. With medication, however, the infection has died out.
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“There was a chance, although really small, that I could lose my eye,” she said. “They think the infection is dead, but they’re not entirely sure, but right now it’s looking good. The doctors said based on how my eye looks in all the tests they’ve done, it’s looking pretty good.”
With Keeney overcoming a potential career and life-changing setback, many would think the problems would be over. That was not the case, however.
When running a race, one of the most important things is keeping your breathing under control. What could be so hard about that? For Keeney, trying to get a single breath in was exactly the problem.
Building up to the regional and state competition, Keeney contracted pertussis, a rare but highly contagious virus. More commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a respiratory infection that results in a severe hacking cough, making it hard to breathe at times.
“I had symptoms for quite a while and decided to get it checked out by a doctor. The doctors told me it’s obviously not a cold,” Keeney said. “I think it is playing a big part in my performance. I’ll have a coughing fit and won’t be able to breathe.
“It feels like my throat is closing and during some of my races, I’ve been wheezing and not getting enough air, which is definitely a setback.”
Keeney won her regional race, qualifying for the state cross country meet once again — the race all high school runners aspire to reach.
Keeney wanted to prove herself, but would have to overcome a lot.
She placed second overall with a time of 17 minutes, 44.1 seconds.
“I had hoped to be running much faster, and my goal was to place first,” she said. “Considering my circumstances so far this year though, I am more happy with it and grateful to still have run this well.”
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Keeney experienced whooping cough symptoms during her state race, which could have possibly played a big part.
“During the race, it was a little hard to breathe and I was coughing,” she said. “This made my legs feel tired, and I had also coughed to the point of puking before the race, which may have impacted my performance.
“I’d say being sick with whooping cough definitely held me back not only in the race but (also) in the training leading up to it, and I think I could’ve done much better if I was fully healthy.”
The future is certainly bright for Keeney. She still has two more years of training and performing left in her high school career. She definitely defied the odds this season and will continue to do so for the rest of her running career — and in life as well.