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Forged in Fire: Emily Infeld on Redefining Courage

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Photograph Courtesy of Gregorio Denny

Her face at the finish of the USATF Outdoor Championship 5K says it all — grit.

Emily Infeld has no shortage of it.

This year alone, Infeld’s grit and confidence have been tested in a crucible of challenges. From recovering from surgery and an onslaught of injuries throughout 2019, to navigating three years of stalking and harassment while maintaining peak performance, Infeld is a testament to the power of will. But as many of us know in this sport, the stat sheet can drastically differ from the day-to-day experience of the athlete putting up the times.

After nine years, Infeld announced she was leaving Bowerman Track Club in January, 2022. Infeld trained solo for a great deal of the fall with the company of her husband, Max Randolph.

Now, Infeld is being coached by fellow Georgetown Hoya, Jon Green, joining his Verde Track Club training group while working toward her goal of qualifying for her first U.S World team since 2017.

“I’ve just been reminding myself that there's no one path to get to the same results. Running is really cool because there's no set system for finding success. Now, being 32, what I can do looks different but who's to say I can't be fitter than I was in 2017, but it might just look different,” says Infeld.

Her collaboration with Green couldn’t have come at a better time. After spending last summer logging 1500 meter and 5000 meter races on the track, Infeld was speculating a move to the roads.

“Last summer I was running track races and PR’d in the 1500 and the outdoor 5K, but I still felt like I wasn’t at a level where I could compete for spots on [World or Olympic] teams,” explains Infeld. “I started working with [Jon] thinking I was gearing more toward the marathon…after doing a lot of long stuff at less intensity I felt like I still love the track and want to give it another shot.”

Infeld saw progress and set her eyes on making the U.S World’s team in the 10,000 meters. On the day of the USATF Championship race, she ran 31:30.04, placing fourth — narrowly missing the third place finish necessary to qualify for the Worlds event.

“I ran the best race that I could and it wasn’t enough to make the team, but it doesn't take away from where I’m at,” notes Infeld. “In this sport it’s about continuing to show up, continuing to put yourself in position to find success. You don’t always make the team, but if you keep showing up odds are it will work out in your favor.”

While the blow of not qualifying for a World team is hard to quantify, the magnitude of Infeld’s perseverance is not. She returned from the 10,000 meter championships with a laser focus on qualifying in the 5K.

“I was eyeing the 10K all year as my chance to make the team. When I didn't make the team I had to revamp…I had to turn my mindset and say I still have another chance with the 5K. I wanted to make that team and make sure I was ready no matter how the race played out,” recalls Infeld.

On June 26, Infeld returned to Hayward Field and toed the line. In a close-contact race with fast splits, Infeld closed the final mile in 4:25 — if it had been an open mile race, it would have been her career first sub-4:30 mile — to finish in 15:00.9. Infeld’s determination was repaid with a place on her fourth USA team.

Photograph Courtesy of Gregorio Denny

It’s hard to believe that in the background of all her accomplishments on the track, Infeld was dealing with ongoing harassment and stalking, an experience that seems alien to most of us - yet lurks in the shadows of many people’s lives.

While Infeld was preparing for her second Olympic games in 2018, Craig Donnelly began to reach out to her repeatedly over Facebook. He then moved to email. Then LinkedIn. Then came the discombobulated, threatening phone calls. He even mailed packages to her home.

Over the course of three years, Donnelly repeatedly threatened Infeld’s life, along with other harassing statements. He went so far as to rent a home two miles from Infeld’s, even after she was granted a protective order against him.

Infeld spent much of her time away from home, too afraid to return. She lived on the edge of the reality she once knew, and the new one being served to her as a result of one man’s decisions, and the inability of the legal system to effectively protect her.

“I felt like I was doing everything I was told to do and didn’t know what else I could do. I wish I had a solution, like ‘do this and you’ll feel better’. I shouldn’t feel unsafe in my home or be told to leave my home for months to feel safe. That’s not realistic. The onus is so much on the victim and it’s not fair. It makes you feel powerless and you shouldn’t,” vents Infeld.

“I was lucky that I had family and places I could go to feel safe, and not everyone has that same experience.”

The burden victims bear is not light. In Infeld’s case, it affected her performance at the Olympic trials, adding to the list of factors that impacted that decisive race.

“I think last spring was really hard. I had been compartmentalizing it for so long until it got to a point where it felt like it would never be done,” says Infeld.

As much as the harassment Infeld faced challenged the very foundations of her life, Infeld is made of tougher mettle.

Infeld showed the same grit she does on the track, drawing empowerment from an otherwise disenfranchising situation. She’s received hundreds of messages from other individuals who have been put in a similar situation, which helped her to feel less overwhelmed and isolated.

“I feel really lucky to have all the support I’ve had and I’m in a better space, but I know there’s so much work to be done,” says Infeld. “All I can say is, keep fighting and keep advocating for yourself, don’t feel like you can’t help yourself and don’t give up.”

There are many races, stories, heartbreaks and triumphs that can be written about Infeld’s career, and heck, many more can still come. To know that there is more time in your career than you think – it is refreshing when each season culminates to one race or one standard. If you ever begin to doubt that there are no more chances for you to have a breakthrough, go watch her make yet another USA team again. Thank me later.

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