Highlands’ Foster sprinted to Alle
Saturday, April 2, 2022 | 6:43 PM
When Robert Foster began running track and field at Highlands, he wasn’t sure where the sport would take him.
With hard work and determination, it took him to championships and into the record books.
Foster made his mark on the track as one of the fastest to compete at Highlands, and he continued his winning at the University of Houston, home to some of the top collegiate sprinters of all time.
His accomplishments running in high school and college make him one of 10 inductees celebrated at the 51st Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame banquet May 21 at the New Kensington Quality Inn.
“This is a great feeling and a blessing,” Foster said about the hall-of-fame induction. “I thank God for this because not a lot of people get this opportunity. One of the big reasons I ran was to take advantage of the gifts the Lord has given me.”
Foster said an early influence in running was his pastor, Edward Carter, at Shiloh Baptist in Brackenridge.
“He said, ‘Robert, you have a gift and you need to explore it.’ ” Foster said. “I’ve tried many sports like baseball, basketball and football, and I kind of fell into track. It wasn’t like I planned it, and I was just fortunate enough to find it at the right time.”
Foster said his parents were also big influences as he got into track and field in seventh grade — as was his cousin, Chet Foster, Highlands’ varsity track coach during that time.
“Mr. Foster, he saw potential in me,” Robert Foster said during a 2001 interview while at the NCAA Division I track and field championships.
“’He took time after he worked with the high school kids and helped me learn how to run. He helped me stay focused. He was strict, but he helped me reach my potential.”
Foster said it wasn’t until he got his first track letter from a college towards the end of his freshman year that he fully realized he had the talent to do big things in the sport and needed to take full advantage.
He started in the long jump and high jump during an indoor track season.
“One meet, coach Foster wanted me to try running, and I ran the 200-meter dash indoors,” Robert Foster said. “My shoe fell off, and I came in last place, the first time I ran high school track.”
But better fortunes laid ahead for Foster, who won his first WPIAL individual title in the 200 as a sophomore in 1997.
He came back in 1998 and captured the 100 and 200 dashes in school-record times of 10.4 and 21.1 seconds, respectively.
Foster, as the premier sprinter in the WPIAL, didn’t let down in 1999 as he returned to the top of the WPIAL podium in the 100 and 200.
He capped his high school sprinting career with PIAA state championships in both the 100 and 200 dashes.
Foster’s WPIAL Class 3A record in the 200 dash (21.37) still stands.
“I’ll be honest. For me, track and field and running was just fun,” Foster said. “I enjoyed the bus rides to and from the meets and just the camaraderie. Just being there with friends and getting to be on the track and work on my skills.”
In addition to his individual accomplishments, Foster said he cherished the opportunity to run with teammates in the 400 relay.
“I loved it because that was a team effort,” Foster said, recalling the 1999 WPIAL title won in the event with Jarrod Sleppy, Mark Corbett and Chad Ryan.
“We should’ve won the state title that year, too. We were that fast. But I had a bad handoff, and we were disqualified.”
Foster ended the recruiting process by choosing Houston and ran under the tutelage of Cougars coaches Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis, who built their collegiate sprinting reputations at Houston before taking their talents to the international stage.
“Leroy was a state champion from Pennsylvania in the same events I ran,” Foster said. “He was aware of me, and he happened to see me run a couple of times.”
Foster was ranked No. 11 in the world in the 200 in 2003.
“It wasn’t until I got down there and started breaking records that (Burrell) referred to me as a diamond in the rough and gave me a full scholarship,” Foster said.
While at Houston, Foster began experiencing issues with his heart that several years later were diagnosed as Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib.
“I was experiencing symptoms of it and it kind of hindered me physically, but I didn’t know what it was,” Foster said. “After a practice, my heart rate would remain high for hours and hours. I thought that was normal.”
Since a 2011 diagnosis, he has continued to monitor and treat the condition with a better understanding of his ailment.
He tries to stay as active as possible with exercise coming from boxing and pickup basketball games.
“The boxing is not too intense, and I also jog here and there,” Foster said. “I think I am still fast, but I don’t run as much anymore.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .