Leamington C&AC masters athlete Tony Foster has a simple message to sportsmen and women looking to bounce back from injury, writes Paul Okey.
“Stop whinging, be patient and set yourself reasonable goals.”
Foster knows what he is talking about having suffered a horrific injury while throwing the javelin for Leamington’s masters’ team in 2015.
The father of three damaged his Lumbar 5th and Sacral 1st vertebra, with the associated nerve damage, which saw one of his supporting discs bulging out like a sausage, resulting in limited use of his right foot.
Walking was a struggle, let alone taking part in any physical activity and the coach, who recently retired from his job as an occupational healthy and safety inspector, piled on the pounds, putting on a stone in the first month following his accident.
It looked like it could be the end of a near 20-year love affair with the sport which had started by accident after the former semi-pro footballer had been spotted training at the Edmondscote track by Dave Hoare.
“He’d been watching me sprint and mentioned the Masters League. I liked the idea and it was him that got me into athletics,” said Foster.
“He entered me at Sixfields in a 400m as a guest and he asked me where my spikes were. I said I’d just got a brand new pair of Puma all-weather football boots and I loved them.
“Anyway I did this race and got destroyed. The winner did it in around 48 seconds and I died at 150 metres having never done it before, I was slip sliding all over the place.
“I did it in 74 seconds but I’d got the bug.
“I bought Athletics Weekly and some spikes and that was my introduction.”
Admitting the injury left him feeling depressed and frustrated by the waiting times for consultations on the NHS, Foster opted to get surgical treatment privately.
Bones were fused back together and an aluminium cage inserted but even through the dark months that followed, Foster said his focus never wavered.
“I was determined to get back,” he said.
And, in a neat twist of fate, the 61-year-old made his return to Veterans League athletics at the scene of the injury, Nuneaton’s Pingles Stadium.
Foster competed in the 60m, 200m and triple jump but it was in the javelin that he was able to truly lay his ghosts to rest, throwing 30.62m to win the M60 event.
“I was a nervous wreck,” he explained. “I couldn’t be explosive and my first throw of 22m left me down in sixth at the end of the first round.
“I added three metres in the second round but ahead of the final round I thought there’s bugger all wrong with me, there was no tingling in the foot and no pain.
“And I ended up throwing nearly 31 metres.”
His success on the field has continued into his distance runing, with 12 minutes having been shaved off his parkrun time since his first tentative post-surgery run.
There are 200m goals, too, with Foster determined to get his time back below 30 seconds.
But above all, there is a desire to keep competing and enjoying it.
“At the end of the day it comes down to how much you want out it,” he concluded.
And it turns out Foster still wants quite a lot.