Caesar Rodney’s Arndt makes the grade on and off the track

Caesar Rodney senior Keely Arndt won the 3,200 meters at the Henlopen Conference championship meet last spring. (Delaware State News file photo)

CAMDEN — Keely Arndt can study just about anywhere.

Whether it was going over vocabulary on a 5 a.m. bus ride to a track meet or studying calculus while sitting in the middle of an indoor competition at Kutztown University, the Caesar Rodney High senior can always find time to get in some schoolwork.

“It’s definitely a struggle,” said Arndt. “It’s a lot of, ‘OK, I’m done my running, it’s time to go study, it’s time to go do my homework.’ Or, ‘As soon as I get home, that’s what I’ve got to work on.’

“There’s a lot of balance. I’m a very organized person by nature. I have all my stuff color-coded and everything. I enjoy organizing things.”

All that organization has paid off pretty well for Arndt.

In the classroom, she has a chance to be the valedictorian for this year’s CR graduating class. She was ranked No. 1 in her class halfway through the school year.

And, in running, Arndt was a first-team All-Stater in cross country in the fall and would have been the defending Henlopen Conference champion in the 3,200 meters this spring.

Keely Arndt placed third in the DIAA Division I cross country state championships this past fall. (Delaware State News file photo)

The bottom line is that Arndt is headed for NCAA Division II East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University on both academic and athletic scholarships.

Riders’ track & field coach Mike Tucci said that high-achieving student-athletes like Arndt are usually really good at time management.

“They know what time practice is,” said Tucci. “They’re usually early for practice. And they know when practice is supposed to end. They do what they have to do and they’re off to the next task.

“It’s hard to balance that kind of academic rigor and goals you have and still be an athlete.”

If it weren’t for a few too many injuries when she was little, Arndt may not have found running. The 18-year-old Camden resident started out in gymnastics but kept getting hurt.

“I broke too many bones so my parents told me I had to quit,” said Arndt, who broke both an arm and a foot in gymnastics. “I had to do something else that was, I guess, safer.”

It didn’t hurt that her dad, Daniel, is a runner who helped out with Postlethwait Middle School’s cross country team in the past.

Arndt switched sports but the injuries continued.

In her freshman year, she had tendonitis during track season; she had a broken foot during cross country as a sophomore; while this year she’s been dealing with a knee injury.

It probably doesn’t help that Arndt stands only about 5-foot-1 — which means she usually has to take more strides to keep up with taller competitors.

“It’s been really difficult in that sense,” Arndt said about missing time with injuries. “You get so used to training and you have a goal in mind of what you want to do. Then, all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, all your plans get thrown to the wayside time and time again.

“It gets pretty frustrating but you just have to focus on what you can do and try your best. … I’ve been going to a couple different physical therapy places and found some people that are able to make a difference for me. Sometimes I feel old.”

The bright side is that all the time Arndt has spent in the trainer’s room has motived her to study athletic training in college.

As for being short, Arndt said it’s never been a big deal when it comes to running.

Arndt always remembers something that senior teammate Aurora King said to her when she was a freshman. King wasn’t very tall, either.

“She always gave me help,” said Arndt. “She was like, ‘Hey, even though you’re short, that doesn’t mean that you can’t run fast, whether on a short distance or a long distance.’”

Arndt clearly doesn’t mind that she’s ended up being a runner, either.

“Running is pretty much my life,” she said. “I love it a lot.”

When she’s been healthy, Arndt has done some good things in big meets.

After winning the 3,200 in last year’s Henlopen outdoor meet, she took third in the event at the DIAA Division I state championships. Arndt also placed fifth in the state 1,600.

As a senior in cross country, she finished second in the Henlopen meet and third in the Division I state meet. Arndt was the only downstate female runner to make first-team All-State in cross country this year.

Arndt can remember making up a gap of about eight seconds to win the 3,200 in a multi-team meet last year. It was really her first victory on the track after coming close a few times.

“I think it’s more just the mental toughness,” she said. “After having to work that hard during the race and then knowing that you’re almost there, you just have to push a little harder that last lap to really make it count.”

Not surprisingly, Arndt likes the mental aspect of distance running, especially on the track.

“Sometimes it feels like a hamster wheel,” she joked. “But I love the strategy. If I run this fast this lap, how much time can I make up to pass this person? It’s just really calming. I find it enjoyable. I’m super competitive so it gives me something to put my energy into.

“If you’re running the 3,200 and you’re running eight laps, hopefully you like it because you’re going to be there for a while.”