Olympic Runner Emily Infeld Tells ESPN Her Tokyo Dreams Were 'Taken Away' from Her by Stalker
Professional runner Emily Infeld is telling her account of being stalked for three years and how the stress of dealing with the harassment ultimately caused her not to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
In a wide-ranging profile from ESPN, 31-year-old Infeld — who appeared in the 2016 Summer Olympics — explained that she was first contacted by her alleged stalker, a man named Craig Donnelly claiming to be a USA Track and Field coach, in April 2018.
Donnelly suffered a traumatic brain injury two years earlier, in April 2016, after suffering an epileptic seizure while on a run, according to ESPN. He had to undergo emergency brain surgery, and part of the left side of his brain was removed, as was part of his skull. Friends and family of Donnelly's told ESPN that he was noticeably different after the accident.
Infeld said that Donnelly first reached out on Facebook Messenger claiming that he wanted to give her advice about a recent injury. He kept contacting her with random messages for about a month, she told ESPN, and she asked him to stop contacting her and blocked him.
Donnelly allegedly tried to send packages to her home in Portland, Oregon, and she says she received strange messages about a wedding. These incidents led her to file for a protective order from Multnomah County Circuit Court.
She was granted a temporary stalking protective order, followed by a permanent stalking protective order two months later, according to ESPN.
Infeld then didn't hear from Donnelly for nearly a year and a half, and prepared for the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020 that would end up postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In February 2020, she was at a race in Boston, one that would be an indicator of her ability to make the Olympic trials scheduled for June (the trials were also rescheduled because of the pandemic), ESPN reported.
While Infeld was in Boston, she says she heard Donnelly was back on social media posting about her.
"My heart was pounding because it was something that I honestly thought was done," she told ESPN. "When I got this barrage of messages, that's what scared me."
She pushed Donnelly from her mind to focus on her 5,000-meter race, and ended up running a personal best with 14 minutes, 51.91 seconds — she would have qualified for the Olympics with that time, according to ESPN.
In June 2020, Donnelly posted on LinkedIn that he was coming to Portland to kill Infeld, according to ESPN. He indeed rented a room several miles from Infeld's house, the outlet reported. Other tenants where he was living reportedly complained about him, and he was kicked out. He then rented a room even closer to Infeld's house, according to ESPN.
Infeld and her fiancé, Max Randolph, fled to Atlanta, Georgia, where she says she was stressed and couldn't focus on training exercises.
"I'd worked so hard to become a good runner, but in a singular moment, it felt like all of that was being taken away from me," Infeld told ESPN. "My life was no longer in my control. I mean, I was running away from my home and I kept thinking, 'Is this even real? Is this really happening to me?'"
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
While Portland police spoke with Donnelly — who allegedly told them that he wanted to "scare" Infeld — they couldn't arrest him because he hadn't been read his Miranda rights.
"The system is so messed up, and this is what makes me so angry," Infeld said of her frustration at the delay in arresting Donnelly. "They interviewed him, they called us and made us feel so terrified. ... They were like, 'It's a good thing you guys are gone, this guy means to do you harm.'"
Eventually, Infeld had to return to Oregon for her races, but stayed at an Airbnb away from her house, still fearful of her safety.
"It's so frustrating when you have these people around that are supposed to help protect and serve and take care of you. You feel like you're discarded," she told ESPN.
In June 2021, Infeld finally competed in the Olympic trials, but ended up in eighth place and didn't qualify.
"[It was] probably one of my worst races," she told ESPN. "It's never a fun place to have one of your worst races at the trials. ... I feel like I'm fitter than that race showcased."
Multnomah County prosecutors charged Donnelly with six misdemeanor counts of having violated a stalking protection order in July 2020, ESPN reported. Donnelly left Oregon after he was interviewed by police, a Portland Police Bureau spokesperson told ESPN, making it difficult to find him for arrest.
Donnelly was finally arrested on June 4, 2021, in Tennessee.
"He actually called us," Brentwood Police Department Asst. Chief Richard Hickey told ESPN. "He called us because he felt like he was the victim of a scam where somebody was trying to steal his money."
Brentwood police discovered his Oregon arrest warrant, and he was taken into custody.
On June 7, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland charged Donnelly with two felonies: cyberstalking and interstate violation of a protection order, which both have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to ESPN. The office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Donnelly is reportedly awaiting transfer by the U.S. Marshall to Portland to face his charges.
Donnelly's Tennessee attorney Henry Ambrose, and his court-appointed attorney William Shockley, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
"This has been challenging to deal with but I feel grateful for the overwhelming amount of support especially from my fiancé, family, and friends. My story is an all too common occurrence. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with something similar," Infeld wrote on Instagram after the ESPN article was published.
Despite the years-long ordeal, Infeld told the outlet she hopes he gets "help for his mental health" beyond a prison sentence, adding, "I felt for him many times."
If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.