Grad student from Kona finishes as a NAIA track champion for Vanguard

Running was never part of Keili Dorn’s college plan until her coach and athletic director at Kealakehe High School convinced her she was good enough to compete collegiately.

Dorn said their encouragement late in her senior year “definitely changed the course of my life.” On Saturday, the Vanguard (Calif.) graduate student with a full-time job as an executive protection security analyst finished her long collegiate career as a national champion. She won the women’s 5,000-meter run at the NAIA Indoor Track &Field Championships in Brookings, S.D., rallying down the final stretch for a winning time of 17 minutes, 5.70 seconds.


“I knew I had a good shot the whole time, but toward the end I was actually falling off the front pack and made myself a little bit nervous,” said Dorn, who graduated from West Hawaii Explorations Academy in 2015 but competed in cross country, soccer and track at Kealakehe, biking from campus to campus. “It wasn’t until the final lap, I was a little bit off the front pack and my coach yelled at me. He said ‘be a sprinter’ to a distance athlete, which is what I needed to hear, and I was able to make a big kick to get the title.”

Dorn attended Vanguard her freshman year in 2015, then transferred to Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) for its global security &intelligence studies program. As an undergraduate, she ran in four NAIA Cross Country Championships and three NAIA Outdoor Track &Field Championships.

Her collegiate career as a graduate student studying organizational psychology has a 21st century twist. She reconnected with Vanguard coach Bryan Wilkins on Strava, an app for runners and cyclists to log and share their times and mileage. He saw her posts and inquired if she still had eligibility remaining. Embry-Riddle didn’t have an indoor program.

“I talked to him at every race that I saw him at and made sure to keep that relationship,” said Dorn, who finished third in the 5,000 at the 2021 indoor championship for Vanguard. “He coached me my freshman year. It came full circle.”

Dorn finished third in her heat in 17:23.89 during Thursday’s trials to advance to Saturday’s final. She worked remotely on Friday, like she had the entire trip, giving herself a physical and mental break.

“That was a nice distraction for me,” said Dorn, who recently earned a job promotion. “I worked a full eight hours that day and drank a lot of water and tried to mentally prepare. Working definitely helped as a distraction, because sometimes you can overthink even if you know you put in the work and know you’re really fit. It’s definitely a mental game, too.”

Back on the Big Island, her parents watched the race from their avocado farm and “screamed so loud that everyone came running thinking something had happened.” Dorn sprinted to the front of the pack in the final 100 meters to edge Becca Richtman of Montana Tech by 0.36 seconds for the title.

“The years of experience and the miles under my legs definitely prepared me for the race,” Dorn said. “There have been a few outdoor nationals at Embry-Riddle where I did not perform very well, but I think every failure that you experience as an athlete contributes to the success you experience.”

Dorn’s experience helped other Vanguard runners qualify for nationals. She paced freshman India Moors to a qualifying time in the 5,000 and helped the distance medley relay team attain a qualifying standard.

Juliana Tampus (Kapaa’ 19) ran a personal-best time on her 800 leg for Vanguard’s distance medley team that finished 18th in Thursday’s trials.

“She moved from distance to the pentathlon and in outdoor she will be doing the heptathlon,” Dorn said of Tampus. “She has just exploded. I’m so excited to see what she’s going to be able to do in the outdoor season. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know her.”

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