Rhesa Foster gives thanks now, and imagine that.
One day, a Youth Olympic Games long jump medalist in China; another day, a left knee in such ruin one of the most gifted track and field athletes the Central Section has known wonders what’s left.
“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, is this really happening?’ ” the senior at Clovis North recounts this week of the horrific, bizarre injury suffered while playing volleyball in September 2014. “I’m in disbelief. I didn’t know where to go from there, just kind of starting from ground zero. Would I ever be the same?”
I didn’t know where to go from there, just kind of starting from ground zero. Would I ever be the same?
Rhesa Foster, after learning a severe knee injury in volleyball would wipe out her junior year
Know this: Rhesa Justine Foster is the same.
Actually, she’s better.
There will be a record 963 prep athletes competing in Saturday’s 89th West Coast Relays at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium, none with greater range than Foster.
She’s signed with NCAA champion Oregon. She’s ranked No. 1 in the Central Section and among the state’s top five in the 100 meters (11.84 seconds), 100 high hurdles (14.19) and long jump (20 feet, 2 1/2 inches). And that’s to say nothing of a 24.49 in the 200 that most sprinters would dream of reaching. All at 5 feet, 2 inches.
Most important are not the marks but Foster’s belief in them: “I needed to see them for myself, just to know they’re out there and know I could do that. This has been very important in building my confidence back up again and competing at an elite level.”
Never know when one shreds an ACL, MCL and meniscus in one routine athletic move that had been executed hundreds of times since fifth grade.
“I didn’t hear a pop or anything,” Foster says. “I thought I just hyperextended it and might be out a couple weeks.”
It would be the last time she competitively struck a volleyball, an outside hit – a “kill” in the sport’s parlance. And she did score the point.
It was on Sept. 12, 2014, in San Luis Obispo, a tournament expected to be awash in enjoyment and beauty, not three weeks following her bronze-medal performance with a 20-foot, 3-inch long jump as a 16-year-old in Nanjing, China.
And to think, volleyball was merely her secondary sport.
Around the corner was her junior season in track and field, already as a two-year section long jump champion and sprinter/hurdler bursting into the ranks of a recent region superstar, Jenna Prandini of Clovis.
Only Foster would never hear the pop of the starting gun that season because, as it were, her left knee did first.
But she didn’t know it.
Something’s wrong here – While Foster didn’t actually hear her knee explode when she landed awkwardly, she knew something was askew.
“I’m thinking, ‘OK, that didn’t feel right,’ ” she says. “I tried walking on my own and that didn’t go well, so they helped me off. By the end of the night, the knee was pretty swollen.”
She returned to the family’s Clovis home the following day and had an MRI, read that night by her mother, Elisa, a pediatric radiologist.
“It was around 6 or 7,” Foster recalls. “I was heartbroken. I went to my room and broke down.
“I had just come back from China and had done so well. I was looking forward to having a great junior year, then three weeks later, I’m blown away. It seemed impossible.”
Clovis orthopedic surgeon Peter Simonian reconstructed the knee two weeks later, and Foster faced five months of therapy.
People were asking if I was afraid I wouldn’t be as good as I was before, afraid I would get hurt again.
Foster, on returning to action for her senior season
Predictably, she would not be your average patient.
Daughter of Robert Foster – a 1994 Fresno State indoor and outdoor national-champion hurdler and two-time Olympian for Jamaica, where he was born – she was pain free and “back where I ended” in August.
That was the physical part.
But, oh, for the mental aspect – the fear, the doubt – after grinding through such a traumatic experience as a teen: “I tried not to think about it, but people were asking if I was afraid I wouldn’t be as good as I was before, afraid I would get hurt again. And it kind of stuck in the back of my mind.”
But no longer, not after delivering national-class marks this spring – and by April, no less.
3 Track and field events in which Foster ranks first in the Central Section and among the top five in the state
Well within her range is the section long jump record of 20-7, set by Riverdale’s Doralee Roberts as a freshman in 1971, according to section historian Ron Blackwood. And the section 100 hurdles mark of 13.77, set by Liberty-Bakersfield’s Morganne Hill last year, could fall also.
“I’m definitely pleased with my progress,” Foster says, “especially after not competing for so long.”
Her coach, Rich Brazil, continues to observe in admiration: “I’m not surprised one bit. Nobody ever counted her out. She was diligent with her physical therapy. And all along, she never missed a practice, even though she couldn’t compete. She even traveled with the team. We gave her a coaches award for her leadership and the way she approached her whole junior year.
“Rhesa’s a phenomenal athlete but, most important, a phenomenal person and a great role model for Clovis North track and field. I don’t know if I’ll ever coach another kid like her.”
Rhesa Foster gives thanks now, and imagine that?
“I thank God for the whole experience,” she says. “It was very, very humbling, to say the least, to go from one of the best in the country and to compete for USA to completely nothing. I’m showing no matter where you were before, you can always come back and be better than you were before. With God by my side, I’ve worked hard every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes three times a day to be the best I could.
“The whole experience has definitely had a huge impact on my career. It’s been a life lesson, and it’s made me stronger.”
Et cetera – The WCR will begin with field events at 10 a.m. and track events at 10:30. More than 50 schools will be represented, including Amador Valley, which will match Buchanan thrower Jacob Wilson with Nathan Esparza in a national-class duel. Wilson ranks first in the state and fifth nationally in the discus (194-1) and third in the state in the shot put (62-2). Esparza ranks second in the state and fourth nationally in the shot (65-3 1/2 ) and fifth in the state in the discus (186-5).
▪ Buchanan’s Hannah Waller will run her first 400 of the season. She’s the defending state champion and section record-holder at 53.13. She’ll also run the 200, where she ranks second in the state at 24.41, and on the 1600 relay, also No. 2 at 3:52.57.
▪ Among others ranked among the state’s top five are Buchanan 300 intermediate hurdler Paramveer Chohan (38.27), the Central boys 400 relay (41.80), Central Valley Christian’s Gabby Satterlee in the 800 (2:14.06) and 1,600 (4:51.11) and Clovis high jumper Alexis Vincent-Walker (5-6).