Joe Foster, who has gained local notoriety for running the past several Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classics in Wheeling holding a large American flag, said he is seeking a new challenge this fall.
Foster, of Shadyside, is preparing to attempt the feat for the first time in a full marathon. He is planning to hoist the flag during the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 23, all to raise money for a cause near and dear to his heart.
In advance of the November marathon, Foster will be collecting donations for Team Red, White and Blue, an organization that strives to connect veterans with their communities through physical and social activity, in hopes of inspiring them to commit to their own health and fitness.
Joe Foster of Shadyside crosses the finish line of a past Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic, after proudly carrying the American flag the entire length of the course.
"They're national now, and they're a really good group," Foster said of the organization.
The connection Foster feels with veterans' causes should come as no surprise. After all, military service is in Foster's blood. He is a Marine veteran himself, his nephew recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, and his father and four of his uncles served during World War II.
"They're still volunteers, and there's a heck of a demand being put on them," Foster said of America's military. "We owe them a lot."
Foster's goal is to raise $5,000 for the organization. His previous efforts on behalf of the Tunnels to Towers Foundation proved quite successful, as he raised more than $12,000 for that organization - all through individual donations - which provides specially-equipped homes for severely disabled veterans that typically cost more than $300,000 to build.
The money he raised helped Tunnels to Towers build one of its "smart homes" for Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry of Marietta, who lost both legs and his left arm in a 2011 improvised explosive device attack near Afghanistan. Hockenberry - whom Foster said he's never met - moved into his home last fall and is now married, Foster said.
Foster said he's not doing anything differently to prepare for the new challenge of running a full marathon with the flag, which is 5 feet wide and 8 feet long and mounted on a 10-foot pole. He was recently cleared to run by his doctor after recovering from being struck by a car while riding his bicycle.
"Luckily, I had a helmet on," he said.
Foster said he ran 9.5 miles on Friday, and he's looking forward to the marathon.
"It's going to be a challenge, but I can guarantee one thing," he said. "If I start that race, I will finish it, even if I have to crawl - and the flag will not touch the ground."
Foster said anyone who wants to donate should call him at 740-676-0605, or write to him at 537 W. 39th St., Shadyside, OH 43947. Checks should be made payable to Team Red, White and Blue with "western Pennsylvania branch" on the memo line, he said.