Katie Allen of the Hilliard Darby High School girls track and field team usually is the last finisher when she competes in the 800 meters, but she also often receives the loudest cheers.

Katie Allen of the Hilliard Darby High School girls track and field team usually is the last finisher when she competes in the 800 meters, but she also often receives the loudest cheers.

Allen, a senior, doesn't let cerebral palsy stop her from running. And the cheers don't come out of pity, either. Spectators respect her determination to overcome a physical disability that makes it difficult to walk without a limp, much less run such a long race.

"To see Katie run is pretty amazing," coach Thom Nees said. "Katie works so hard and perseveres against some tough physical conditions, and it impresses everyone. She's feisty. She doesn't let anything or anybody hold her back."

Scott Alpeter, who ran cross country and track at Otterbein, has watched Allen run several times over the past four years as his daughter, Erika, and son, Austin, have been a part of Darby's track and cross country programs during that time.

"Watching Katie run is very inspiring," he said. "I tear up almost every time I see her compete. Everyone is impressed with her, from all the coaches and athletes to the fans in the stands. She gets more cheers than the person who wins the race, and she deserves it."

Allen was born with hydrocephalus and has come a long way to get to the point where she can run races. Eighteen hours after she was born, she underwent surgery to install a shunt in her brain, helping drain an excess of cerebrospinal fluid and relieve pressure. She had to have another shunt when she was 6.

Because of the hydrocephalus, Allen has had to deal with the effects of cerebral palsy all her life. Cerebral palsy is a group of conditions caused by brain damage that affects ability to control movement and posture. In her case, that includes disturbances in vision, gait, balance, coordination and walking.

Allen had to begin wearing glasses when she was 18 months old. Even with glasses on, her sight ranges from 20/70 to 20/100 and she has no peripheral vision.

Allen suffers from left hemiparesis, which has resulted in weakness and a general lack of control in the left side of her body. Her left hip is partially out of socket, and when she walks or runs, her left foot often drags across the ground and she isn't able to completely straighten her left arm.

"It really bugged me when I was little because I couldn't run as fast as the other kids or do some of the things that they did," Allen said. "One of the biggest effects of cerebral palsy is balance. When we were little, someone brought in a balance beam that was just an inch off the ground, and it was easy for the other kids, but I had to step on the ground a couple dozen times. I've had to wear glasses my entire life and I've always been picked on a little bit. But I've learned to cope."

Encouraged by her mother and older brother, Ray, Allen began running cross country and track as a seventh-grader at Memorial Middle School. She had to walk part of the course to complete her first cross country race, but she's been hooked on competitive running ever since.

"That sparked my interest to get strong enough to run a whole race, and I've never had to walk another race again," Allen said. "After I got good enough to run the whole race, my goal has always been to get out of last place, and that's something I've clung to my whole running career."

Running cross country has led to several nasty spills for Allen, whose left foot sometimes gets tripped up by tree roots or other uneven surfaces.

But she never has dropped out of a race, regardless of weather or course conditions. As a freshman, she finished her first cross country race in more than 66 minutes. By her senior season, Allen finished a race in a personal-best 33 minutes, 42 seconds.

At the Midwest Meet of Champions last fall, Allen reached a personal milestone when she finished 91st in a field of 92 in 34:02.22, 13 seconds ahead of a runner from Reynoldsburg. She went on to beat three others in future races.

"I had passed runners before, but they always dropped out of the race because they didn't want to be last, which was frustrating," Allen said. "I'd always dreamed of being able to turn around to congratulate someone after a race, and that was the first time it ever happened."

Allen earned the cross country team's Granite and Steel Award each of the past two seasons for being its toughest, hardest-working runner. She earned her letter as a senior.

"As her coach, I've forgotten that Katie is disabled because she never complains about it and her cardio and gait have gotten so much better," cross country and distance coach Don Seymour said. "She's the only person I've coached who practices at her race pace all the time."

Although she has competed in only one varsity track invitational, Allen runs the 800 in every dual and sometimes runs the 1,600 as well. Allen has completed the 800 in 4:59 and she is aiming to finish in 4:40 or better.

"I'll never be one of the faster runners, but it gives me a good feeling to know that I've accomplished something," Allen said. "I don't usually broadcast that I have cerebral palsy because I don't like pity. But I do want people to know that they can reach their goals if I can because running isn't easy for me."

Erika Alpeter, who graduated from Darby last year and now runs for North Carolina State, said Allen inspires her teammates do their best at all times.

"Katie's awesome," Alpeter said. "She's faced with a lot of frustrations and difficulties and she does the impossible. She always runs so hard every workout, and she keeps getting faster and faster. Watching Katie makes me not complain so much when I'm hurting or feeling tired, because I know that she's overcome so much more than most runners."

Allen is scheduled to graduate in May and plans to earn a degree in special education from Ohio Dominican.

"Katie is an amazing child," Allen's mother, Cathy Baack, said. "When she was born, I was told that there was the possibility that she would never see, hear, talk or walk, and here she is, running track for her high school team, about to graduate and go to college. I'd say she's done pretty well for herself."