Donovan was there for Keister and her family to help raise $10,500 by playing in a September 1984 charity game, which enabled the Keisters to buy a handicapped van for Renee.
It's ironic how life has circled back nearly 3 decades later.
Keister, now Renee Keister-Balke and mother of 14-year-old basketball-playing twins, will be there for Donovan, presenting her with the Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development Award, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Neumann University's Miranda Center in Aston, Delaware County.
"It's going to be great seeing Anne again and an honor being there for this event," Keister-Balke said. "I was this girl who was into basketball and I remember Anne brought her gold medal with her for my charity game.
"She's someone who was a complete stranger, who is this loving, lovely person who cares about people. How many major sports celebrities would do what she did? She didn't have to do what she did then for me and my family, but she took the time out to do it anyway."
What changed Renee's life started out as harmless fun. A bunch of friends in shorts and T-shirts on a summer afternoon filling time, roughhousing in a living room, tossing pillows at each other and tossing each other around.
That's when it happened. Renee immediately knew as soon as she heard what sounded like thick tree bark cracking. That was her spine splintering into pieces after she tried rolling over and flipping a friend on June 15, 1984. The accident stole a promising basketball future for the 6-foot sophomore who had scored just under 1,000 points for McCorristin Catholic High in Trenton.
"I knew I was paralyzed right then," Keister-Balke recalled. "It was a weird feeling, because all your nerves are going berserk; your body goes numb with this feeling of pins and needles. I was lying on my stomach and told one friend to get my neighbor, yelled to another friend to call my mother, and to someone else call my sister. They were at the house in minutes.
"But I just knew. I don't why, I just did. I couldn't move anything; I was completely paralyzed from the neck down."
Keister was transported to Thomas Jefferson Hospital, where she had surgery to fuse the frayed bone fragments in her spinal cord. She missed a year of school. Her home had to be remodeled with handicapped-access ramps, and the family had to find a way to move Renee around. Medical costs mounted.
So Sister Marguerite O'Beirne, McCorristin's principal at the time and currently Neumann's vice president for mission and ministry, planned a charity basketball game to help Renee's family with some of the expenses.
They reached out to Donovan, a Paramus, N.J., native.
"I remember I just got back to Jersey and I was so touched by Renee's story that I was driven to help," said Donovan, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Hall of Famer and currently coach of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun. "Talk about tragedy. I was so blessed in life. It was nothing for me to go down and spend time with Renee.
"I think back about my life and her life, and how strong she had to be. There was such a light about her then that you knew she was going to be OK. It's something that absolutely impacted me. It's always about the power of the positive face before you. It's been a lesson for me, too, in what I do every day. I don't know if I would have had that kind of spirit and to be so positive as Renee was. I know she's moved on and nothing has held her back. I'm going to be so thrilled to see Renee again."
Donovan went even further. Each time she stopped into the Philadelphia area, she made sure she ducked into the rooms at Shriner's Hospital to visit Renee. There were a few times, during quiet moments alone, when Renee would ask, "Why did this happen to me?" But the majority of her focus was on moving forward.
And she did.
Renee went on to graduate from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C., and received her master's degree in counseling from Rider. She has worked the last 20 years for the New Jersey State Department of Labor, specializing in vocational services for people with disabilities.
"I feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Renee said. "I do remember the hospital visits from Anne at Shriner's. I'm not an emotional person, but I have a feeling I will be that night at Neumann. I want Anne to see my children, who know the story. I tell them Anne was a very great basketball player who took the time to support me."