Running Through Adversity: Ashlyn Keeney

Girls Cross Country runner Ashlyn Keeney overcomes multiple obstacles to be one of the top runners in Iowa


Jenna Star

Ashlyn Keeney (Right) with teammate Beth Jaeger, 10. (Left)

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 – Pre State Cross Country Meet

There are three kinds of people in this world. You have the losers, the people who go with the flow and refuse to put in the extra work. You have winners, the type of character to be naturally good at what they do but only meet the expected requirements. Then, there’s the champion, the cream of the crop, the scarce few people that rise above the fine line of expected and conquer what is theirs. 

To be a champion, one has to face adversity and overcome it. Ashlyn Keeney, sophomore and runner on the Liberty Lightning Girls Cross Country Team, 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 beating the state record time. 

Earlier this 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,” said Keeney.

Throughout the season, many people 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. Thankfully, due to the medicine prescribed by doctors, the infection has died out. 

“There was a chance, although really small, that I could lose my eye. They think the infection is dead, but they’re not entirely sure, but right now it’s looking good. The doctors said [that] based on how my eye looks in all the tests they’ve done, it’s looking pretty good,” Keeney informed. 

With Keeney overcoming a potential career and life-changing setback, many would think the problems would be over. This was not the case for the high caliber athlete. When an athlete is competing in a race, one of the most important things while running is to keep your breathing under control. What could be so hard about that? For Keeney, trying to get a single breath in was exactly the problem. In the later bits of the season building up to state, Keeney contracted pertussis, a rare but highly contagious virus. More commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a respiratory infection, which 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,” said Keeney. 

“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 added.

With Keeney qualifying for the State Cross Country Meet having a first-place qualifying finish with a time of 17:58.4, she will have to overcome a big obstacle in order to be a top competitor in the meet this Saturday, November 2nd, 2019.


Jenna Starr
Ashlyn Keeney running with protective sunglasses earlier in the year.

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 – Post State Cross Country Meet

The date of the State Cross Country Meet has passed. The race that high school runners across the state aspire to reach. For Ashlyn Keeney, she would have to prove herself. She would have to overcome a lot. 

Keeney placed second overall with a time of 17:44.1. She came behind senior Camille Jackson from Ames with a time of 17:23.9.

I had hoped to be running much faster, and my goal was to place first,” she explained. “Considering my circumstances so far this year though, I am more happy with it and grateful to still have run this well.”

Keeney still experienced her symptoms of whooping cough 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. 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,” added Keeny. “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.

Ashlyn Keeney, 10, running during a cross country meet.