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Girls cross country: Boulder’s Vaughn tabbed as Daily Camera runner of the year

Parents Brent Vaughn and Sara Vaughn and Boulder's Kiki Vaughn pose for a portrait at their home in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Parents Brent Vaughn and Sara Vaughn and Boulder’s Kiki Vaughn pose for a portrait at their home in Boulder. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Kiki Vaughn’s running chops coarse through her veins. She finally saw the fruition of those genetics and hard work during her junior season with Boulder.

After making the switch from dance to cross country — much to the thrill of her Boulder High coach, Geo Tam — Vaughn began to chart her own course on a path that her parents know all too well. She vaulted herself onto the high school scene with a second-place finish at the Washington Park Invitational at the beginning of her season, the first of five top-three finishes.

That opening time of 18 minutes, 43 seconds soon dropped to her personal best of 17:59 at the Front Range League Championships, where she placed third in a tough field. At the Class 5A state meet in October, she placed 12th overall and clocked in at 18:38.10 on the unforgiving Norris Penrose Event Center course.

“I was kind of sick. That second mile was really rough,” Vaughn recalled. “I started not being able to breathe, because I was so congested but it was still really fun. The hills in the second mile and not being able to breathe, I think, impacted it a lot. And then, like a half mile to go, I was like, ‘I have too much in me.’ So I tried to move up a lot.”

She passed 10 runners before she crossed the finish line.

Boulder High School's Kiki Vaughn approaches ...
Boulder High School’s Kiki Vaughn approaches the finish line during the Class 5A girls regional cross country meet at Northwest Open Space Park in Northglenn on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Her dominant season and performance in the finals earned Vaughn the Daily Camera runner of the year, much to the pride of her parents Sara and Brent, who have made a name for themselves in the sport since their collegiate days at CU under legendary head coach Mark Wetmore in the late 2000s.

Both were All-Americans in college, after having to balance life with baby Kiki, classes and training. Most recently, Sara — whose maiden name is Ensrud — wowed in the marathon by recording a time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds, the fifth-fastest debut time of any U.S. female, in 2021.

Kiki’s been along for the whole ride, including her parents’ various trips to the Track and Field World Championships. Those experiences helped open her eyes to the possibilities, and her mom has been thrilled to watch her grow in the sport so quickly.

“I’m kind of a little bit of a spazz at all of her races,” Sara said. “No matter how fast she’s running, I’m just really, really excited. I just get so much joy from watching her run, regardless of how fast she’s going or where she’s at place-wise. I’m all over the course. I usually log about half her race distance running around, cheering for her.

“Usually, during the first part of the race, I tell her how good she’s looking, which helps her stay calm and relaxed. And then sometimes I’ll give her specific instructions like try to catch one person or two people on this mile or this lap. By the end, I’m usually just screaming incoherently.”

The advice that her parents have bestowed upon her, whether it’s during competitions or on family runs, has proven invaluable to Kiki’s overall growth, though Sara and Brent admit they try to stay as hands-off as possible.

They know long-distance running isn’t always fun.

“My favorite quote of (my mom’s) is, ‘It’s supposed to hurt. See how bad it can hurt,’” Kiki said. “It kind of replays through my head throughout 5Ks. If I’m hurting, I’m just like, well, I could hurt more. So I keep pushing.”

With one year left in her high school journey, Kiki is excited to see how much farther, how much faster she can go. For now, she’s focused on training for the outdoor track season in the spring, but has her eye on potential college prospects as she gets closer to making a possible commitment.

She’s already off to a phenomenal start as she’s learned to embrace the body aches.

“Once the pain leaves, depending on how long that takes, there’s definitely a reward for running,” Brent said. “You have the dopamine, the hormones, what we say is the runner’s high. It’s a real thing and it’s pretty cool. It’s definitely rewarding when you have a really, really good race and you’ve worked so hard.”