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Heritage standout Weini Kelati’s rapid rise continues with commitment to New Mexico track and field

Heritage cross-country and track standout Weini Kelati is bound for Albuquerque in the fall. (Doug Kapustin / The Washington Post)
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It’s been a wild two-and-a-half years for Weini Kelati. Since arriving in Leesburg from Eritrea before the 2014-15 school year, the 19-year-old Heritage senior has learned English, won a state championship and become the top high school distance runner in the nation.

Kelati’s impressive rise in the American running scene hit another milestone last Friday when she committed to run track and field at the University of New Mexico.

When Kelati arrived at Heritage, her biggest obstacle was the language barrier that made it hard to open up to her coaches and teammates. Through work in the classroom and on runs, she has made leaps and bounds in improving her communication skills.

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“At first, I was trying really hard to translate the English from my coach, but I could not understand him, only a couple words,” said Kelati, a two-time All-Met Cross-County Athlete of the Year. “Now it has gotten much better. I can be open with everybody.”

Now in her third season running with the Pride cross-country and track teams, Kelati has emerged as a social teammate who uses her own extraordinary talent to lead by example.

“She really adjusted in her first year and came out the other side her second year, and I started seeing a smile on her face a lot more,” Heritage Coach Doug Gilbert said.

Due to her age, Kelati is not eligible to compete for the Pride this season. Her class schedule has no room for electives as she aims to combine credits earned in Eritrea with three years at Heritage for her high school diploma. But she still trains with the team.

Over the summer, Kelati passed the NCAA clearing house’s initial eligibility requirements, which opened up her college recruitment.

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Kelati plans to run the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races for the Lobos, whose program is ranked in the top 20 in the country. She also plans to study nursing, radiology or some other type of medicine. Once in Albuquerque, Kelati plans to use the same open attitude that helped her succeed in Leesburg to excel at the Division I level.

“It is important to be open with coach and teammates and everybody,” Kelati said. “That is how you improve running and become happy.”


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