Never giving up
Whenever Stewart Foster works with students, he always makes sure to give them plenty of encouragement, telling them to put in the effort both in and outside of the classroom and to improve their skills by way of hard work. But there is one other thing he wants to stick in the minds of students for the rest of their lives.
Never quit. Never give up.
Foster has told many an athlete in Price, other areas of Utah and in his birthplace of Canada that sage piece of advice.
"The first time you quit something, it's a mistake," said Foster. "But the second time you quit something, it becomes a habit."
It's one piece of advice he takes to heart. And for good reason.
With a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and a time frame from his doctors of just a handful of months left to live hovering over his head for the past year, Foster has persevered.
He has no plans to quit. And he won't give up his life without a fight.
Getting his start
Foster, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1938, was a natural athlete growing up. He participated and excelled in Track and Field and Cross Country. He eventually used that ability to go to college. First he went to BYU and then later to Ricks College, now known as BYU-Idaho.Then he went to Weber State on a track and field scholarship.
At the age of 20 he participated in the Canadian Olympic and Pan American Trials. Despite participating in events he had little to no experience in, Foster nearly qualified to represent Canada for the Pan American Games placing fourth overall.
In 1963 he married the love of his life, Darlene, and the couple eventually started a family. Together they have six children, including Keith, Kimberly, Kelly, Klint, Kamra and Kristen.
His love for coaching continued as he returned to Utah and eventually came to Price to visit for a job opening at Notre Dame High School. There he was offered a position of not only being a coach for a handful of sports, but also to teach subjects including biology, history and physical education.
He gave a handshake agreement to come work at the school in August 1966. While other schools like Carbon High School could offer more money, Foster said he wasn't about to go against something he promised he said he would follow through on.
"I learned growing up in Canada that if you say you're going to do something, you do it," he said with a chuckle.
For the next three years, Foster taught and coached multiple sports at Notre Dame. He coached a number of successful teams, including in football, and was proud to see the hard work pay off with kids succeeding on the fields of play and in the classroom.
"It was a lot of work for me but I was young and energetic and I loved working so much," Foster said.
Around this time, Foster began working with Price City and became the manager of the lap pool at what is now the Price City Wave Pool Complex. It was something that would become a big part of his life years down the road.
Coaching: A lifestyle
After finishing up with Notre Dame High School, Foster helped start up a swimming team, focused on different age groups in the area. He also began working with Carbon High as a coach and volunteer, a relationship that has spanned the parts of six decades.
Quickly the teams he has worked with experienced success in the pool. A girls swimming team he coached placed sixth in their first year of existence.
After years of coaching and volunteering, Foster chose to retire in 2000. But when a situation arose and a spot coaching the diving team needed to be filled, Foster ended the retirement rather quickly. And it came on a great bargain.
"I told the school that I would coach the team for $1 per year," he said. "They couldn't turn that down." He did that for a number of years out of a love for helping with the teams before he was later paid more for his time.
As the boys and girls diving coach, Foster's teams saw plenty of success. The boys won three state championships and the girls consistently placed well at state. He also sat back and watched the effort and the determination of students pay off with scholarships to colleges after high school concluded.
"He's there at every practice to help with the kids and their technique and helping them to always stay on task," said daughter Kamra Davis, head coach of the CHS swimming team. "He's always encouraging the kids to do well."
Stewart also began working with the Carbon High Cross Country team. As with his other coaching opportunities, Foster loved the chance to work with students.
"I love coaching because I get a lot out of it by working with those kids who have little experience in a sport and watch as they work hard to make themselves into a good athlete in the pool or on the track," he said.
Over the years, athletes have shown their appreciation for Foster by asking him to do things such as writing letters of recommendation for them. It's a sign, Foster said, that shows they appreciate what he's done in their lives.
"That really means a lot to me," Foster said of his interactions with athletes of all ages he has been in contact with. "It's great to see where they've started to where they are now."
Cancer: A giant hurdle
In late 2012, Foster had surgery to remove his gallbladder. Weeks later before New Year's Eve, he began to experience chest and stomach pains. After spending a few days in the hospital, Foster was eventually sent to see specialists up north. There he was told by doctors that he had pancreatic cancer.
With surgery and chemotherapy out of the question, Foster's only option was radiation. In February 2013, Foster started a long 25-day treatment that saw him and his wife make the long drive from Price to the Huntsman Cancer Center. While the treatment was painful and the drives up and back tough on him, Foster made sure everything went to plan. No treatment would be missed. Rain, snow or sun, he would be there. No question.
"I looked forward to the treatments because I didn't want to go backward," he explained.
Despite being weak, Foster continued on. Unable to eat much due to a loss of taste, Foster says he has lost 60 pounds. When doctors requested he eat some food before leaving the hospital, Foster nodded his head. When they left the room, he quickly threw it in the garbage can.
"I just wanted to get home," he said with a laugh.
While being enclosed in small spaces during treatments, Foster said he would sing an old Doris Day song in his head. It made the treatments go by quickly as he recited verses of the song in his head over and over.
During an early part of his treatment, a swimming and diving meet in Price was on the schedule. Foster begged his doctors to let him go. He would leave the hospital, go and help coach with his daughter Kamra at the meet and quickly return to his hospital bed when the meet concluded. Unfortunately his doctors said no.
"That was really hard for me," Foster said as his voice shook and tears began to well in his eyes. "I just wanted to be there for the team."
Davis said she remembers hearing the doctors tell Foster he had six months left to live.
"The doctors gave him just six months to live, but he's still here going strong," she said. "He just keeps going and doesn't let it get him down."
When the swimming team and everyone at Carbon High heard of his condition, the phone calls and cards began to pour in. Fundraisers were held and donations were gathered in Foster's name. Athletes from all of the years he has coached told him in any way they could that they were praying for him to get better.
"That was fantastic," Foster said. "They kept reminding me of all of the things I used to tell them when I was their coach."
One day at a time
Foster is back at home and, when he feels good enough, still helps work as an assistant coach with the Carbon High swim team. He still has regular visits, about three to four times a month, with doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Center.
"I can walk and sleep fine now," he says with a smile.
Eating very much can still be a chore. Depending on the day, Foster may or may not have much of an appetite and something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich may be all he needs for the day. But the smell of grease, he says, can kill his appetite immediately.
But one thing that is sure to make him feel immediately better is knowing how the swim team did at their last meet.
"I'm so proud of how the kids on the swim team are doing this season," Foster said.
He is hopeful that the diving team, which is not competing this year, will return in the near future.
Considering everything that has happened over the past year, Foster said he is happy to be alive, spending time with his family and still able to continue doing the things he loves.
"I'm doing well," he says. "There are good days and bad days but I'm always looking at everything in a positive way."
That's the same way he's taught the thousands of students and athletes over the years.
Work hard. Always look forward. Be positive.
And never give up.