No taking speed for granted

The anchor leg of Hillsborough's 4x800-meter relay team often draws his inspiration for running from those kids who can't.

Published May 3, 2007

TAMPA - You don't walk away from a weeklong muscular dystrophy camp without a newfound appreciation for, well, being able to walk away.

John Foster sure didn't, and therein lies a noble paradox. The anchor leg of Hillsborough's 4x800-meter relay team often draws his inspiration for running from those kids who can't.

Kids such as Tyler, the heavy-set boy in the wheelchair, about 8 or 9 with dark hair whom Foster recalls as "really funny and really nice." Foster doesn't remember Tyler's last name, just the lasting impression.

"It really humbles me, " said Foster, an International Baccalaureate student who will attend the University of Florida on a partial academic scholarship.

"Like, during the year, sometimes I get a little greedy, a little selfish, and then I just remember what those kids have and I have a lot more than that. ...It makes me realize how much I have."

Buoyed by that broader perspective, Foster and his relay teammates - fellow senior Kendall Brown and juniors Charles Gadson and Mark Williams - enter Friday's Class 3A meet with a legitimate shot at bringing home a state title.

Hillsborough recorded a personal-best time 8:03.46 to win last week's Region 3 title. Cape Coral Baker (8:00.97) and Miami Washington (8:01.13) ran faster during statewide 3A region competition, but Terriers coaches point out Gadson broke out too quickly at regionals, resulting in a 2:10 split.

Otherwise, the Terriers might have eclipsed eight minutes.

"If we could just get (Gadson) back down to his 2:05 and our other guys run their strong legs, we have a good chance of winning it, " Terriers coach and alumnus Joe Sipp said.

History says at worst, they'll establish a PR. In its first major competition of the year, the Steak 'n Shake Invitational in late February, the foursome placed second in 8:30.78.

Its time has improved in every big-time race since, resulting in district and region titles.

The key, Sipp says, is "the quality of work that they put in and their will to want to do it. These guys here, when they ran at Steak 'n Shake and came in second, from that point on they wanted to do it and try to win state in this event."

Providing the figurative fourth gear for this sleek unit is Foster, a reed-thin (5-foot-11, 145 pounds) three-sport standout who attended a cross country practice on a lark in ninth grade and hasn't stopped running since.

Foster's time (1:55.53) in the individual 800 at regionals is among the state's five fastest this season, according to flrunners.com.

Perhaps more impressive: His weighted grade point average (5.3, he guesses) easily exceeds his 40-yard dash time.

It was this fusion of athletic and academic prowess that prompted Terriers track assistant Andy Wood to invite Foster to his first Muscular Dystrophy Association-sponsored camp on an oak-sheltered, 18-acre site in Brandon two summers ago.

The annual five-day event typically draws 40-50 campers, with one counselor for each kid.

"Muscular dystrophy affects each camper differently, " said Wood, a 16-year veteran of the camp who was recruited by quarter-century veteran Bob Weiner, currently Plant's football coach. "Some kids just need a buddy for a week and others need full care."

Campers engage in activities ranging from canoeing to cookie decorating. Foster initially agreed to participate to fulfill a service-hours requirement for his IB program.

The next one he plans to attend - after graduation in early June - will be his fourth.

He hopes to have a state championship medal to show off.

In a sense, it would be Tyler-made for him.

"It's like, I don't know, it makes me realize how much I have, " he said. "I can run and these kids can barely even walk, so it really motivates me."

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.


State track

Where: Showalter Field, Winter Park

When: Class 3A, Friday; Class 4A, Saturday

Admission: $8 per meet

Schedule (both days): Field events, noon; 4x800-meter relay finals, 1 p.m.; running event prelims, 4 p.m.; running event finals, 7 p.m.; team awards, 9:25 p.m.