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At 87, former SPU track coach Foreman still makes a difference

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By Larry Henry
Special to The Herald
  • Dr. Ken Foreman, the founder of the Falcon Track club and a former coach at Seattle Pacific, met with some of his former runners in Monroe last month.

    Larry Henry photo

    Dr. Ken Foreman, the founder of the Falcon Track club and a former coach at Seattle Pacific, met with some of his former runners in Monroe last month.

MONROE -- "I hope," the man said as he bid goodbye to Dr. Ken Foreman, "that you are still coaching when you're 100 years old."
"I hope so too," the 87-year-old Foreman said.
If his heart is as strong as his handshake, he will be. His is the grip of a blacksmith.
That's one of the first things you notice about him. Another is his eyes. They're intense. Penetrating.
Another is his mind. It's sharp. And his sense of humor. It's keen.
The lucky recipients of all this on a recent summer afternoon was a group that included some of his former Falcon Track Club runners -- Vicki Foltz, Doris Heritage, Laurel Boyd and his wife, Denise -- who had come together to relive old times with their beloved coach. He had returned to Seattle from his home on the Big Island of Hawaii to promote his new book, "A Coach's Journey, From a Sand Lot to the Olympic Stadium."
For those unfamiliar with Dr. Foreman, he was the founder of the Falcon Track Club in Seattle, and its two earliest stars were Heritage and Foltz, both of whom gained international fame as distance runners beginning in the 1960s, back when certain segments of society thought women would do untold harm to their bodies if they ran distance races.
That's just one of the many things Foreman is famous for. His list of credits is long and distinguished. He did three stints as a coach at Seattle Pacific University. He was coach of the U.S. women's track team that didn't get to compete in the 1980 Olympics because of a political bruhaha. He coached 167 NCAA All-Americans. He ... oh, this could go on and on. Suffice it to say, if he were in the military, he'd be a four-star general. A year ago, he got the fourth star when he was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.
It was long overdue.
Foreman was a pioneer in awakening the world to the fact that a woman could run distances without, as he put it, "her uterus falling out."
Heritage became the best women's distance runner in the world. And close on her shoulder in many a race was Foltz, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Yugoslavia at 19 without any athletic background.
When her future husband, Don Foltz, a keen judge of talent whom she had met at a YMCA in St. Louis, suggested she might like to try running, she blurted, "Why? To go around in a circle like a gerbil?"
When she got to Seattle and auditioned for some coaches at Greenlake, she joked, "I felt like a prize cow."
Vicki doesn't mince words.
Things changed. She took to running. Loved the freedom she felt when she moved fast around a track or over a cross country course.
Don was her personal coach. Foreman was her team coach. A dynamic duo.
A large part of Foreman's greatness was his ability to inspire his athletes. Vicki still has copies of the weekly training plans he drew up for each of his athletes. "They were eloquently written, full of praise and encouragement. He had us so mentally prepared, so full of belief that 'you can do this.'"
Even today, Foreman -- in his 63rd year of coaching -- makes up plans for each kid on his cross country/track and field teams at Konawaena High School in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. He's been coaching there since 1999.
Foreman was way ahead of his time as far as a coach understanding a woman's psyche and makeup, Foltz said.
Laurel Boyd, a state champion in the 800 and 1,600 meters in 1972 for Shoreline High School, remembered Foreman as a powerful speaker, one who could have an athlete emerge from a meeting laughing or crying. "Every word that came out of his mouth was a nugget," she said.
The stories these women told as they sat there on the lawn at the Foltz home east of Monroe manifested the man's humor.
One day they arrived late to a meet. Foreman said not to worry, he'd come up with something to delay the start. As he walked onto the field, he feigned a seizure. That did the trick.
On another occasion, they were returning from a meet and had stopped at a gas station in Eastern Washington. Javelins, attached to the roof of the van, attracted the attention of the station attendant. "Going fishing?" he asked.
Yep, Foreman said. Lingcod.
Another time, Foreman met a panhandler on a bridge. The panhandler lamented about the slow morning he had just endured. Foreman commiserated with him. Yeah, it was the same at the other end of the bridge, he said. Finally, they parted, Foreman's new friend saying, "Good day to you brother."
What amazed former SPU sports information director Frank MacDonald was how Foreman could sit down beside, say, the long jump pit, watch the jumper for a few minutes, and then make "the most intricate adjustments" to help the kid reach a personal best.
"He could look you in the eye and say something simple and make even a sports information guy believe he could be the best in the world," MacDonald said. "He's one of the most influential people in my life, that's why I stayed there (SPU) so long."
MacDonald remembered a national track meet in which the two SPU javelin throwers hadn't had a good day. So Foreman tucked them into his car and drove them back to the hotel. MacDonald, following right behind, noticed that the coach was quite animated as he spoke to his athletes.
When they got to the hotel, MacDonald asked Foreman what he had said. Well, it wasn't as bad as it looked, the coach replied. "Did everybody in your car see it?" he asked. "The whole message was to light a fire under the rest of the team" for the next day's competition.
Now, a month shy of his 88th birthday, Foreman is still having fun coaching. Some of his kids come from what he calls "a very tough place." Some of their homes are without electricity and running water. Some live 45 miles away. One bus in the morning, one in the evening. If they miss the afternoon bus, they hitchhike home.
Little things mean a lot. He gave a Junior Olympic T-shirt to one of his male athletes. "He wears it everyday," the coach said.
One day Foreman was leaving the track when a woman drove up. "I'm Tommy's mother," she said. "Is it possible I could get one of those T-shirts?"
He granted her wish.
Foreman paused before speaking. "She wears it like a suit of clothes."
The old coach. Still making a difference.
Now. And, maybe at 100.
Story tags » Track & FieldOlympic Track and Field

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