By IAN HICKS
WHEELING - It's not Joe Foster's way to take the easy path. In fact, seeking a challenge in everything he does seems to come to him as naturally as breathing.
The 49-year-old Shadyside resident drew attention during last year's Ogden Newspapers Classic Half Marathon Run by proudly flying the American flag from a 10-foot pole that he carried throughout the entire 13.1-mile course. He plans to do so again in this year's 36th annual event, set for 8 a.m. Saturday.
And in carrying that weight, he hopes to ease the burden on a wounded, young American hero for whom little is ever likely to be easy again.
U.S. Army Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry, 20, of Reno, Ohio, a town just southeast of Marietta, lost both legs, his left arm and the middle finger on his right hand in a June 15 improvised explosive device attack near Haji Ramuddin, Afghanistan. He is currently in Texas undergoing an extensive rehabilitation program.
Foster, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the early 1980s, learned of Hockenberry's plight through a mutual friend who works with Foster at PPG Industries' New Martinsville plant. His goal is to raise $50,000 through the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation toward the construction of a "Smart Home" for Hockenberry in the Marietta area.
"It's time for us to step up and do our part and provide for these guys," Foster said. "We can't ask any more of them - they've done it."
The homes, which cost at least $300,000 to build, are specially designed to help quadriplegics and multiple amputees regain a measure of independence. Foster said he plans to seek large donations from local businesses but encourages anyone to help however they can. For information on how to donate, call Foster at 740-676-0605, or visit www.tunneltotowers.org.
A benefit concert for Hockenberry by Sinise and his "Lt. Dan Band" also is planned for Aug. 16, though Foster noted organizers still are seeking a local venue for the event.
Regarding the challenge of carrying the Stars and Stripes over the diverse terrain of the Ogden Half Marathon course, Foster - a veteran of numerous triathlons, Ironman triathlons and other distance events including the Ogden race - said it's largely mind over matter. Last year, he recalled, the cheers and salutes of onlookers provided all the motivation he needed.
Race Director R. "Scat" Scatterday said he offered to recruit five or six volunteers to share the take the flag and give Foster the occasional break, an offer Foster respectfully declined.
"I want it to be tough. I want it to be a challenge. That's my show of gratitude to these guys," he said.
Scatterday invites all the public to stand and salute the passing flag on Memorial Day weekend.
"He's got something going for him that's different from the rest of us. ... He wears the title 'hero' naturally," Scatterday said of Foster.
Even the most routine of daily tasks - commuting to work, for example - presents an opportunity for Foster to push himself.
On occasion, he bikes from his Shadyside home to Clarington, swims across the Ohio River and runs the final five miles to the PPG plant. And last month, he scaled Pike's Peak in Colorado - one of the highest summits in the Rocky Mountains.
And this past weekend, Foster and his girlfriend, Mary Kreis, were in Portsmouth, Ohio, for the American Triple-T Ohio, a punishing weekend of endurance events that included a Friday evening sprint - a 250-meter swim, 5-mile bicycle course and 1-mile run - and two Saturday "Olympic" races, each comprised of a 1,500-meter swim, 24.8-mile bicycle course and 6.55-mile run.
After all that, he plans to bike 400 miles to visit his son at Wake Forest University in North Carolina before returning home to run in the Ogden race.