BY MELANIE BUCK –
Determination, self-sacrifice, courage… those are all adjectives that could be used to describe many soldiers across the nation, including Mena’s own, Lambert Foster. A Marine to the core, a humble servant to a fault, and a charm that carries him through anything, Foster has conquered more than most and continues to serve his country, even after giving more than anyone should ever have to.
Foster is now 46 years old and lives in Mena. He grew up in Mena for most of his life, only moving away during his freshman year of high school and would eventually graduate from Smithville, Oklahoma in 1988.
He joined the Marines and served 3 ½ years. During that time, on Valentine’s Day of 1991, Foster would receive a life-altering injury, yet one that would not slow him down for long. He was serving in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm when the truck he was in came into a sandstorm and wrecked. Foster would lose his left leg, having it amputated below the knee.
He took the next couple of years off and went to work at Aalf’s for a while and then installing poultry equipment and then to Street & Performance. While all of those jobs kept him busy, there was something missing.
After the 2009 tornado that destroyed much of Mena, his volunteer work began. Foster explained, “Our church leaders were a big influence and during that time I started volunteering and got into prison ministry.”
Also during that time, New York Says Thank You came to Mena and built four homes. They brought with them a flag that was raised at the World Trade Centers after the attacks of 9/11. “I was selected as one of three honorees to stitch the national 9/11 flag,” Foster explained. The flag is now in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It was completely reconstructed by New York Says Thank You in Greensburg, KS. “The superintendent at the twin towers site had the flag and he had never done anything with it. Some women started re-stitching it and they toured it to every state and had a flag stitching. It is now completely reconstructed and hangs in the museum. It had been hanging on one of the towers.”
After the flag stitching, members of the Stars of Hope and New York Says Thank You, told Foster that he needed to go with them on these builds of homes, they have one every September. He thought about it and decided to take action. “They had the tornado in Joplin and my niece was there in college. The edge of the tornado was at her apartment complex. So when they said they were going to Joplin, I had a passion for that because she was there and then I started volunteering with them full time after that. We posted stars in the community in Joplin. That was my first volunteer work with Stars of Hope.”
Stars of Hope is a disaster relief and community arts program that centers on giving children of all ages the power to transform communities affected by disasters through messages of hope and healing. According to their website, Stars of Hope has, “empowered 45,000 volunteers including school children, families, seniors, first responders, veterans, active military, partner organizations, and entire communities to paint inspirational words, messages, and designs on 1-foot wooden stars.” The stars are displayed in public places in communities worldwide in the immediate and long-term aftermath of tragedy serving as beacons of hope and compassion for all to see. An organization that Foster is more than proud to be a part of.
“After that I went with New York Says Thank You to North Dakota and they were building a ski lodge for the disabled and as a disabled veteran, I felt I should go. There was one citizen from North Dakota killed in the towers, Ann Nelson, and they named it Annie’s House, in her honor.”
He began volunteering with more organizations after that. “It’s a full time passion,” he smiled. Working on disaster rebuilds has become a full-time hobby. Another organization that Foster works through is called A Soldiers Journey Home. They build a home for a disabled veteran every year. “My first project with them was in Guntersville, Alabama. I’ve been a part of building three homes through that program.”
He also works with a student-organized group, Jewish Disaster Response Corps called Nechama. It means ‘comfort’ in Hebrew. Foster volunteered with them in Vilonia and Mayflower after the tornado there, doing disaster rebuilds in 2015.
Having a background in carpentry has helped tremendously with his volunteer work. He took 3 years of vocational carpentry in high school, which has served him well as he passes his blessings on to others.
“I just want to continue to pay it forward because even if we don’t have money to put towards rebuilding, we can all give our time and that’s what I do is give my time,” said Foster. “It was like an old Englishman told me in the fleet hospital… he said ‘never feel sorry for yourself, look up young marine, there is always someone that’s in worse condition than you’ and that’s what I do.” Foster has also made missions trips to Haiti, in addition to his other volunteer projects.
Over the course of helping others in the midst of tragedy and disaster, there was still something more that Foster was searching for. And eventually, he found it. Although he continues his volunteer work and has no intention of slowing down, he has found something for himself, well, sort of. He has become a runner. Yes, with an amputated leg, Foster has become Arkansas’ own blade runner.
Why running? “I got to researching blade runners and when I did, I found that most of them are found over in Nashville because there’s an organization that helps fund the prosthesis for blade runners. They are mostly children and that struck my heart. By you doing this, I do feel that I am more able to encourage the kids that use blades. I have yet to run with one of them, but just me being an amputee runner has inspired children,” he explained.
“My first run was in Joplin on Veteran’s Day 2014, it was called the Run with the Heroes, an invitation for all military service men and woman and their families. I had a personal goal to run the 5K in 28 minutes and I ran it in 26:06 after running only five weeks on the blade,” he smiled.
“My second 5k was in Kansas City and I ran with a little third grade girl, Avery. I had met her dad at Annie’s house and met her mom in Bethel Acres building a barn. Avery had started following my running and I told Carrie (the mom) that I wanted to run with Avery but I want it to be a total surprise. So her mom was talking to her and she said ‘it would be so cool if Lambert could run with me’ but her mom told her it was too far and registration was closed. So I was there after school to run with her group and that was the first time that she had met me. She wanted to run because she thought it was so cool that I was a military veteran and that I was running on the blade. It gave her inspiration. You had to have a running partner so I ran with her.”
And yet another passion was born in Foster’s heart. Now, when he isn’t building a home in a far off state or traveling to deliver Stars of Hope, he’s running. “The running is for myself but it’s also, for cancer patients, children, and military. And everything that I have run has been a part of that. I dedicate my running to others. Every timed event run that I’ve been in, I’ve been able to place in the top 3 in my age category. In a timed event, I’ve never run against another amputee. It’s always been against able-bodied men so I feel very accomplished.”
In 2014, he was invited to run in the 9/11 Memorial Tunnel to Towers run but he was unable to make it. In 2015, he made that dream come true. “I went in 2015 and was in the early start with people that are in wheel chairs, double amputees… It inspired me even more. And when we come out of the tunnel and there are 343 New York Fire Fighters with banners of pictures of the fallen draped around their neck, it’s just so emotional to see that years later, the passion of those people in New York City; they have never forgotten.”
The course they run during the Tunnel to Towers run is an emotional story in itself. “The run raises money for the Stephen Siller Foundation. Siller was an off-duty FDNY fire fighter and he got to the tunnel and they wouldn’t let him through. So, he grabbed his gear and made his way on foot to the towers. He was last seen at Vesey Street next to the second tower. The 5K traces his footsteps. That’s definitely the most emotional race I’ve done. This was my second year to run it. Just as emotional the second year as the first.”
In his first Tunnel to Towers race, Foster’s son, Noah, was able to make the trip with him. “That was the first time he had seen me run. He was excited when we came out of that tunnel. He carried my backpack with my leg on it… it was as big as him,” laughed Foster. “He just thought that I was going to finish the race and switch it out and he just wanted to carry it with him.” Noah was able to stand with people Lambert knew from New York Says Thank You and Stars of Hope. “My running partner, Nadja, is a nurse in New York and she was a nurse after the towers went down, on site,” he explained.
He was able to run the Tunnel to Towers race again in 2016. “Thanks to the generosity of David and LeAnn Dilbeck and Robby and Sherry Hines, my airfare was paid for this time.”
His most recent race was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Little Rock. He ran in honor of his niece who battled ovarian cancer. “My niece had ovarian cancer when she was 19 and is a survivor after two surgeries and one removed ovary. I ran in honor of her. I always think of Susan G. Komen as breast cancer, but it’s more and now I have a purpose for running it. God is good all of the time,” he said.
As for what keeps him going, Foster said, “When I started running, I had high blood pressure and with going to the gym and running, within a month, my blood pressure had come down to normal. I can see that fitness is a lifestyle. Even though I have a physical disability, I don’t allow that to keep me from going to help others. I think that the last time we were truly united was on 9/12 and if we could just get the passion back in the people to love one another and help those in need, we would be a better place. Even though that disaster doesn’t hit you, you never know when it could hit you. The tornado in 2009 didn’t hit my side of town but it hit my sister on the other side of town. That’s the first place I went after.”
Still touched by the effects of his own tragedy, he uses that as fuel to encourage others to keep moving through life, one step at a time. “The marine and the fight in me wouldn’t let me give up and that flag… freedom is not free. I wear these little bracelets to give me a reminder. The first one is for Ty Thacker in 2014. I had just received my blade and wasn’t able to run it, but after I was given this bracelet, I’ve taken it from here to Haiti and have worn it to New York City. When I started running, I ran by myself, but I always had Ty with me. That just gave me inspiration… I said I would run any benefit we have for cancer, children, or military, and I do.”
Being the first Symes Blade Runner in the state of Arkansas, Foster’s bar is set high, but as he continues his trek, he maintains his motto, “One Step at a Time,” and hopes that his story will encourage others to do the same.