It happened toward the end of a snowy run more than a quarter century ago, but the moment is crystallized in time for Ed Donohue.
Ed brushed off the February snow, opened the front door to his Haddonfield home, and saw his 2-year-old daughter standing curiously by it.
“Like any little kid, she wanted to do what her parent does,” he says.
And with that, the young dad zipped his girl up in “a little snowsuit and took her out.” Running. Despite going an easy pace, Donohue’s heart jumped a half mile into the jog when his toddler tripped and fell, her face covered in snow, dirt and blood.
“And she just brushed herself off,” Donohue recalls. “She didn’t want to be held. She just kept running.”
For Ed , it was his coolest cool down. For Erin Donohue, now 29, it was the first steps toward an Olympic running career. For both, it marked a milestone in their relationship.
Any marks to her face have faded away. What remains are the memories and lessons, indelible marks left early in one’s life and so often by one of America’s 71 million fathers.
Certain fatherly lessons, from charging a car battery to throwing a change-up, stay with us forever — even if the dads themselves don’t.
Or in Ed Donohue’s case, can’t.
“She can walk faster than I can run now,” he says with a laugh.
It didn’t take long before Erin was at her father’s heels. With each stride, she made ground on her dad, both on the track and in the trophy case.
“But it wasn’t in an abusive sense; I just wanted to tag along,” Erin says. “I was always thrilled, maybe when I was 10 or 12, to be able to keep up with him on some runs.”
Erin has taken few breaks since her toddler tumble, rewriting the record books at Haddonfield Memorial High as a two-time National Scholastic mile champion, winning three Penn Relay championships in her sophomore year at University of North Carolina, competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics and then setting a personal best in the 1,500 meter race (4:05.21) the following year.
Her drive to compete was her own, leading her to all-star success in basketball and javelin.
Whether doing long runs in Fairmount Park or track workouts in Haddonfield, the Donohues strengthened not just their endurances during their runs, but their bond, too.
“He did most of the talking,” she says.
And he still does, gushingly.
Ed Donohue is proud of his daughter’s accomplishments, something he hears about often at his Westmont bar, The Irish Mile.
“What I did was fine on the local level, but she’s pretty much world known in the running circles.’’
It only took a few bandages to make Medford resident Emily Burt a more levelheaded, if not better driver.
Upset after her first car accident, Burt’s father worked with her on her perspective, covering the dent in the car with Band-Aids the next morning, Burt says.
“No big deal,” realized Burt, 51. “I live my life with the same optimism. Whatever life sends my way, I will get through it. It’s not the end of the world.”
Needing more than a Band-Aid, Erin Donohue suffered a serious heel injury last year, requiring surgery in September and an additional operation in December to remove more bone.
The setback eliminates any hope of Erin competing at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, an especially devastating reality for a mid-distance runner.
“A lot of women her age will be running this year and if they don’t make (the Olympics), a lot will drop away,” Ed says. “But I tell her you could strengthen other areas, that (this setback could) leave you hungry.
“She hasn’t given up. . . . It all goes back to the day that she fell and hit her face. She just won’t quit.”
Though thousands of miles, years of sacrifice and a successful recovery stand between Donohue and the 2016 Summer Olympics, it’s hard to quit when you have so much support, Erin says.
“He’s always really good at putting the positive on things,” Erin says of her dad, whom she calls “a close friend.”
Ed is ready for the next phase of her running life when she is. “I said I want to be her marathon coach,” he says. “She kind of laughs about that.”
While she may not be ready to call her dad “coach,” she’s always up for calling him.
“I still have a lot to learn from him,” Erin says.