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March 05, 2015

Adventure program introduces world of possibilities to Craig grad and his family

The old saying goes that the family that plays together stays together. For Tom and Laurie Foster and their children, Chris and Megan, that saying holds true. Despite Tom’s high-level spinal cord injury, the family has traveled the world having physical adventures, from zip lining in Costa Rica to kayaking with whales in Alaska. Now they’re giving back to Craig Hospital to ensure that other families can have the same experiences. 

Tom Foster was paralyzed in a ranch accident in 1981. Following a three-month stay in an intensive care unit, during which he and Laurie were married by the hospital chaplain, he spent six months rehabilitating at Craig Hospital. The couple eventually settled in Oregon where they built and later sold a very successful gunsmithing business. Over the years they returned to Craig periodically for re-evaluations.

The Fosters were introduced to the added possibilities of travel and recreation by Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation Adventure Program. After reading about the Sea Wolf program in an issue of “Movin’ On,” Craig’s alumni magazine, Tom Foster called Lori Womeldorff, CTRS, the trip’s coordinator, and arranged to go along, serving as a “guinea pig” to see if this type of trip would be feasible for Craig grads.

The couple cruised the San Juan Islands, Washington, and Glacier Bay, Alaska, on the Sea Wolf, a 97’ ocean-going ship that holds 12 passengers and has been retrofitted for accessibility. During the trip, the adventurers saw killer whales, kayaked, hiked, and took a handcyle trip on Lopez Island.

“As soon as we got off the trip, I was ready to go again,” says Laurie Foster. “It was great to be shown how we could expand our adventures together, and it really added a dimension to our relationship.”

Tom Foster agrees. “I felt really free, and it changed my perspective on what we could do—once we learned we could do a trip like this,we knew we could do other things.”

The couple has taken three more trips on the Sea Wolf with their family and in 2009 spent Christmas in Costa Rica, where Tom Foster went across the longest zip line in Central America— while strapped into his wheelchair. 

“I’ll try anything twice,” he jokes. “If it went bad the first time, it was probably just a mistake.”

The Fosters, who recently donated to the ROI Capital Campaign, follow the mantra of former Crested Butte, Colorado mayor W Mitchell, who uses a wheelchair. 

“He said that the average person does 10,000 unique things in their life, and a person in a wheelchair can do 8,000 things,” explains Tom Foster. “Are you going to spend your life worrying about the 2,000 things you can’t do, or get out and do the full 8,000 that you can? That’s one thing that we really took away from our experience at Craig—an attitude of being open and always looking for opportunities to do something amazing.” 

“Are you going to spend your life worrying about the 2,000 things you can’t do, or get out and do the full 8,000 that you can? That’s one thing that we really took away from our experience at Craig—an attitude of being open and always looking for opportunities to do something amazing.”

Tom Foster

When they got home from the first trip, Tom purchased his own handcycle so that he could get out and about while at home. The couple also contributes annually to a fund at the Craig Hospital Foundation to help other Craig families enjoy the trip.

Phillip Mann, a 1977 Craig graduate, went on a Sea Wolf Trip with his wife, Elaine. “We were fortunate to be on the top deck of the boat. Our cabin had a large window that allowed us to wake up to the scenery of Glacier Bay—you just have to know there is a wonderful God to make such a beautiful place,” he says. “This was our trip of a lifetime, and the scholarship for the Sea Wolf trip was so kind and generous.”