Ladue juniors Annie Donnell and Allison Moehrle share a unique bond seldom seen on the track.
They run every race together. Share every practice stride with each other. They’re almost inseparable. And it has to be that way. Moehrle serves as the eyes for Donnell, who has not let her blindness deter her from training and competing for the Rams.
Prior to Saturday’s Dale Collier Invitational, which host Kirkwood held at MICDS while its stadium is being renovated, Donnell had only raced the 100-meter dash twice. She felt she was ready to move to a longer race and ran the JV 400-meter dash.
Tethered to Moehrle at the wrist, Donnell set the pace and ran her first 400 meters to the loud ovation from the all the spectators, coaches and athletes.
“I think I did pretty well, and I was glad I was able to do it,” Donnell said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect because it’s always different when you run in a race versus when you just practice on your track. With everyone cheering, that helps you go faster.”
Donnell was winded after her race and admitted it was much faster than she had practiced. Spurred by the adrenaline of the moment, she sprinted around the track with Moehrle by her side to guide her to the finish line.
“It was exciting,” Moehrle said. “The crowd really helped motivate us. I knew I wanted to do a sport, and I’m out here with her. I was talking to her the whole time so she’d know where we were at.”
When the pair ran the 100, they would link arms. Per MSHSAA rules, the runner and guide are supposed to use a tether, which Donnell said was an awkward adjustment at first. Now she actually prefers the tether.
Ladue coach Keith Harder said assistant coach Melissa Hill has been one of Donnell’s biggest supporters and helped encourage her throughout all of her training and preparation. When Harder called Kirkwood coach Roberta McWoods about the possibility of Donnell racing at the Dale Collier meet, he said McWoods was thrilled at the idea.
“When she came out as a freshman, I was really nervous,” Harder said. “We had another school practicing on our track. I was worried about her getting trampled or run over. Her freshman year we got her in the JV conference meet, and last year we ran her at Rockwood Summit in the JV division. (Coach) Roland Garrison was great. Any time we call someone, they’re like, ‘Yes! Bring her!’ Roberta was all over it and wanted her to run here bad.”
Harder said Donnell motivates the rest of the Rams every day with her tenacity and determination. She shows up every day and tackles any drill or practice the coaches throw at her. He said what gets him most excited is to see how the whole team, the whole school, has accepted her as “just Annie” and don’t treat her any differently, yet all the while gaining a sense of humility and perspective.
“The kids see her, and she’s a part of the team,” Harder said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh we have to get out of her way.’ She’s an integral part of a typical day at practice. We make amends and make sure we see her, but she’s as much a part of this thing as the other kids. That’s what I like.”
For Donnell, it’s just another day on the track.
“I knew anyone can do it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to participate in at least one sport, and I just thought I could do it.”