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Dad, daughter are world-class team

Char Foster came into the world at a trot, and she hasn't stopped running since.

Just ask her father, Art.

"I birthed Char," Art Foster said. "I was physically there at the womb and birthed Char into the world. We were in the hospital and the doctor was dead asleep. It was just me and the nurse.

"And it happened so quick that there was no time to wake the doctor up. I'm not complaining, though. It was the best experience of my life."

And a sign of things to come for Foster's youngest daughter. Today, Char Foster is a world-class junior sprinter who began setting national age-group records at 9 and is now a 17-year-old junior at Ridgewood High School.

Art Foster has been there every step of the way, earning quite a reputation himself as a coach. He has been invited to conduct clinics at major meets throughout the country and recently finished a running manual, Over the Speed Limit: Foster-ing a Dream.

In New Port Richey, Foster runs Alpha Omega Track Club and tutors track athletes.

"I've picked up a lot of knowledge through the years," he said. "I have been around some of the best coaches in the world, and we have had a free exchange of ideas. I'm sharing my knowledge."

Many are eager to benefit from it as Char has.

"Art did an impromptu hurdling clinic here last year and it was like the Pied Piper," said Steve Scheonewald, director of the Dannon/Delchamps Meet of Champions in Mobile, Ala. "All of the coaches were sending their athletes over to listen to him."

Foster will conduct an official clinic there April 4-5, when his manual will be released. Char will compete in the 100 and 300 hurdles and attempt to win her third straight MVP award at the elite meet.

But that meet is minor compared to others Char has been in. She has competed twice in the Junior World Championships, in Lisbon, Portugal, and Sydney, Australia, and is a past Junior National and Junior Olympics champion.

Last season at Clearwater Central Catholic High, the Fosters teamed up to lead the Marauders to the Class 3A state title. Art Foster was the team's head coach, and his daughter was the main point producer, winning five individual state titles.

But Foster said he was irked by what he thought was second-class treatment of the program despite the state title, and he withdrew his daughter from CCC. The family moved to New Port Richey last summer, and Char enrolled at Ridgewood, making the school an instant state championship contender.

"I always liked New Port Richey looking in from the outside," Foster said, "and the housing prices were more affordable here. Ridgewood High itself had nothing to do with us moving here.

"We just loved the community. And it has been wonderful."

It's not the first time Foster has put the interest of his children first. The Fosters are originally from Omaha, Neb., and moved to St. Petersburg when Char was 6 so her older sister Bobbi, then 14, could train in track year-round.

Foster brought with him his four children and four he and his wife, JoAnn, adopted when Char was 2. The Fosters adopted the four children, who ranged in age from 12-17, after their parents _ Art Foster's uncle and aunt _ were killed in an automobile accident.

"I guess I was going along with my name _ fostering a family," Foster said. "After their parents were killed, my wife and I just took it upon ourselves to take them in and adopt them.

"It was a great experience raising those children, and it helped me and my wife in the nurturing of our own. They have all moved on and gotten married. They are good kids, good citizens. I am proud of them."

There are just four Fosters living in their Orchid Lake home now. J. R. is a sophomore at Ridgewood who may try out for football next season.

The family lives in a spacious four-bedroom home in Orchid Lake. In the front yard is a statue of the Virgin Mary with a stream leading from it to a goldfish pond.

Coaches at Ridgewood should be thankful for the statue because it is what attracted JoAnn Foster to the house.

"We are Roman Catholic, and my wife just fell in love with that statue," Art Foster said. "Once she saw that, we didn't even look at another house."

Ridgewood coach Sue Vien was thrilled to discover that Char would be running for her team this year. Ridgewood already had the area's best girls program before the Fosters' arrival, and now the Rams are favored to win the Class 5A state title.

Foster, who had been the only coach Char has known, turned over some of his duties to Vien and credits her with having a positive impact on Char.

"She has the opportunity to share her needs with someone over and above what Dad, male coach, could provide," Foster said. "We are talking about a maturing young lady who needs a mentor. And Sue is a wonderful mentor."

Too wonderful, at first, Foster said.

"Char didn't even have to walk when she got to Ridgewood," he said. "I'm not saying Sue physically carried her around. She just paid her too much attention. But Sue has figured that out and lets her do things on her own now."

If Vien was in awe of her new sprinter, there were some at Ridgewood who were not, including Brittany Berge, who is now Char's best friend, and Danny Henwood, her boyfriend of eight months.

"I didn't even know who she was," said Berge, an 800-meter runner for Ridgewood. "I never heard of her. Then someone pointed her out to me and I said, "Oh, that's the Olympic girl.' I went over and introduced myself and we have been friends since."

Danny knew who Char was and wanted to meet her after reading in the newspaper that she was transferring to Ridgewood.

"He talked to my brother and he said, "Yeah, I've got a sister,'

" Char said. "So he came over to play cards with him one night and that's when we met. We had fun and have been seeing each other since. He was not intimidated at all."

Danny even gave Char some advice after she complained about a poor performance during 1996. (Char was suspended for two months in late 1995 by USA Track and Field after failing a drug test apparently caused by an over-the-counter cough medicine. She said that affected her 1996 performance.)

"Danny said, "Char, separate yourself from everybody else and work hard,'

" Char said. "I said, "Okay, coach.' It was funny hearing it from him."

Foster isn't ready to call Danny his daughter's boyfriend, saying they are just friends. But he knows his little girl is growing up. She will be 18 on June 2, and her dream and his is for Char to run in the 2000 Sydney Games.

"I think I can make it there," Char said, "and I know my dad will be proud of me."

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