Change of Plans: Injury sends Tara Foster down another of life’s paths

Photo by Jeff Baughan Stretching her left leg, Tara Foster begins a rehab session to help repair the left knee at the North Hills pool.

PARKERSBURG — Tara Foster had a life plan. It was a good plan. It was a well-thought out plan. It was a helping people plan.

It has involved:

* Volunteer EMT and Level II firefighter with the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department for the last three years.

* Joining the West Virginia National Guard to assist with financial help in gaining a nursing degree from Marshall.

* Earned certification for scuba diving. For final certification she needs to make five free dives.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Tara Foster performs shoulder exercises as she works on regaining her ability to balance at the Parkersburg YMCA.

* Using the National Guard training to become a flight medic and eventually into a trained combat medic.

Because… “I wanted to help people,” she said.

It was put on hold when the left anterior cruciate ligament, that’s the ligament which goes under the patella, and the meniscus, which is a piece of cartilage in the knee that cushions and stabilizes the joint, failed. The meniscus protects bones from wear and tear and it tore.

“Blew out the ACL also,” she said. “Blew both out playing flag football for the Delta Zeta sorority at Marshall in April. Of all the …,” she said, stopped, and shook her head.

“It was on the intermural field near the football stadium, where the band practices,” she said. “I was running in cleats and I don’t even know why I was running in cleats. Anyway, I felt it (the knee) pop and went to the sidelines. I had it taped up and tried to go back. I made a cut and it just collapsed like a soft taco. Then I wondered ‘how bad was I hurt?’ because I knew I was supposed to go to basic training in August.”

Photo by Jeff Baughan Tara Foster does a left knee stretch during a rehab session at the Parkersburg YMCA.

Foster was supposed to be a lifeguard this summer — at Myrtle Beach — on the beach as part of its emergency response team and she’s not. She wasn’t supposed to be walking around the North Hills pool helping with swimming lessons and the North Hills swim team but she is. She was scheduled to leave for National Guard basic training in August. That’s not happening either.

“Basic training was going to be six months,” she said. “Three months was to be spent in Missouri and three months in Texas for medic training. Now, I’m going to return to Marshall to continue working on the nursing degree in the fall. That wasn’t in the plan.”

Foster’s enlistment stands firm and is for six years.

“The Guard is honoring the enlistment,” Foster said. “But college is not paid for until I go through basic training.”

Training continues with the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department as well.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Tara Foster watches a member of the North Hills swim team push off as she practices her back stroke start.

“They have been very supportive,” she said. “I get to sit in on the training although physically, I can’t do any of it right now.”

There are three round scars on Foster’s left knee and one several inches down on the shin where the tears were repaired. She rehabs daily at the North Hills pool and the Parkersburg YMCA. She has shed the straight brace which stretched from her thigh to the ankle.

“It’s a 6-8 month recovery,” she said. “The surgery was in May. The goal is to be able to do the Turkey Trot in November.”

Until then, she rehabs daily. It may not seem like much now but it’s as much as she’s allowed to do. Rehab visibly is stretching and walking in three to four feet of water at the North Hills pool. Leg lifts and learning to balance her body again on that left leg while standing on a platform about eight inches off the ground is part of the routine at the YMCA.

“It’s having to teach each muscle what it’s supposed to do again. It’s creating that muscle memory again. It’s complete focus on each little movement to get it back to where it was before.”

Photo by Jeff Baughan Tara Foster works on establishing her ability to balance during rehab exercises at the Parkersburg YMCA.

Foster has been “swimming for most of my life,” she said. “I was a member of the YMCA Sharks, North Hills and was a captain of the Big Reds swim team. All of that helped me get to the point where I could be a lifeguard at Myrtle Beach. All the training with Waverly (VFD) helped me prepare for being on the emergency response team. I love to help people and I love going to emergency response.

“The derecho a couple of years ago, however you say it, is one of the reasons I joined Waverly,” she said. “I’m sitting around in the dark for days and I’m sitting there thinking ‘I’m tired of sitting in the dark. What can I do to help? There’s got to be something.’ So I went and did something about it.”

Nursing is something Foster said has been a developing passion for her.

“It really has,” she said. “I’ve loved medicine for a long time and the longer it goes, the more passionate about it I’ve become. Ambition is a driving force to be the best.

“I eventually I want to be a flight nurse,” she said. “I want to be able to travel to the scene, hop out the back of a helicopter and immediately help.”

Foster said while she realizes her plans have been put on hold, another plan is progressing as it is supposed to.

“God has this huge plan for my life and I trust that plan totally,” she said. “I didn’t plan it this way but I trust He knows best. It’s great to get another summer here at home with family and friends which I hadn’t planned on. I don’t get this time back so this is an amazing summer for me.”

She said even the injury is all part of a learning process and one she feels will help her as her training progresses.

“This injury will help me be a better nurse,” she said. “It will help me because I am going to understand a patient’s place and how they feel. I had never had a hurt like this before. Now I understand recovery. I understand rehab. I understand what it is like to be hurt and be knocked off your feet. I know it is going to make me a more compassionate person when helping those who are hurt. I get it now.”