WHEELING - The sight of Joe Foster running through the streets of Wheeling bearing the American flag on his shoulder is becoming a familiar one for spectators at the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic.
But the experience was admittedly a little different this year for the Shadyside resident and former Marine who has carried the Stars and Stripes the entire length of the 13.1-mile course each year since 2011 in honor of the United States military and the burden they carry of protecting their country. Foster's 20-year-old son Cory just started boot camp and his nephew, Jake Foster, is preparing to be deployed to Afghanistan in the fall.
"Now it's really hitting home," Foster, a 50-year-old Shadyside resident and U.S. Marine, said after finishing the race Saturday with a time of 2:02:15. "I just want to give a lot of recognition to our active military."
Photo by Ian Hicks
Joe Foster of Shadyside crosses the finish line at Saturday’s Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic holding the American flag, marking the third consecutive year he has borne the Stars and Stripes the entire length of the course.
In past years Foster has run in the Ogden race and other events to raise money and awareness for the Tunnel to Towers project, which is working to build "smart homes for wounded soldiers." Equipped with special technology designed to help multiple amputees complete daily tasks most of us would find routine, the homes cost about $350,000 each to build.
By himself, Foster raised about $15,000 in individual donations toward a smart home for Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry of Marietta. The 21-year-old veteran lost both legs and his left arm in a 2011 improvised explosive device attack near Afghanistan.
Foster is happy to report ground has been broken for Hockenberry's home, which should be completed later this year.
"He's on his way. He's still getting rehab, and he got married last year," Foster said.
It gives Foster a good feeling to know that Hockenberry soon will be able to move into his new home, but he believes it's the least America can do for him and others who selflessly put themselves in harm's way for their country.
"That guy deserves every good thing that can come his way. ... He sacrificed for us, and we can never repay him," he said.
After crossing the finish line Saturday, Foster said he felt good but tired. He noted the cooler weather helped quite a bit, a sharp contrast from last year's searing temperatures.
Foster jokingly suggested he may have to trade in his heavy metal flag pole for fiberglass next year. But make no mistake - Foster is accustomed to completing feats most people wouldn't even think of attempting.
Last year, he scaled Pike's Peak in Colorado, biked 400 miles to visit his son in North Carolina and competed in the Triple-T Ohio event, a grueling weekend of swimming, cycling and running events.
Even commuting to work presents an opportunity for Foster to challenge himself. He's been known to bike from his Shadyside home to Clarington, jump in the Ohio River and swim to the West Virginia shore and then run the final five miles to the PPG plant near New Martinsville.