It was enough of a miracle when Foster emerged from her coma in November. She still had to embark on a painstaking recovery from brain injury. From her hospital bed, Foster relearned how to sit up straight. Find her balance. Eventually, hobble forward using a walker.
But as Foster’s body slowly healed, her mind raced ahead to the future. She set a goal to push herself through rehabilitation: She was going to run the Boston Marathon in just a few months’ time. She didn’t want to share it at first, she said.
“I was kind of embarrassed,” Foster told The Washington Post. “‘What are you doing? Don’t tell these nurses and doctors that you’re going to run a marathon. Are you crazy?’”
She needn’t have worried.
Beaming in celebration, Foster crossed the finish line in Boston on Monday. It had only been three weeks since she was discharged from a rehabilitation program for brain injuries, and five months since she woke from her coma — a storybook ending to an astoundingly speedy recovery from brain injury that has left doctors and family in awe.
Foster had one word on her mind as she pounded down Boylston Street on the marathon’s final stretch.
“It was just such a feeling of … redemption,” she said. “I felt like I had been stripped away of all of this stuff in my life because of this accident, and it was finally coming back.”
Foster, a 35-year-old chef from Oklahoma City, is a seasoned marathon runner who’d completed the Boston Marathon in 2018. She qualified for this year’s edition after a blistering finish at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April 2022. The prospect of returning to the prestigious race filled her with excitement, she said.
Those plans were seemingly upended in November by an accident she suffered while returning from dinner with her husband, John. While riding an electric scooter, Foster suddenly pitched forward and crashed to the pavement. Blood pooled around her head and from her nose, John recalled.
Doctors told John that Foster had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her skull was fractured in multiple places, and she’d broken her collarbone, sternum and pelvis. Nate Nelson, an emergency room resident at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center who helped treat Foster, told The Post her injuries were close to fatal. As doctors operated on Foster’s skull to stabilize her, John prayed for a miracle.
“We’d need, like, Jesus to walk into this room and touch Rachel,” John recalled saying.
Foster, in a coma and breathing through a ventilator, didn’t respond for 10 days when doctors checked for brain activity, Nelson said — a grim prognosis. Foster is an organ donor, and John said he began to weigh the unthinkable decision of letting his wife die.
On Nov. 19, a day before doctors planned to remove her from life support, Foster’s hand moved. Then she took a big breath. John couldn’t believe it.
“We had nurses all along [the hospital] calling her ‘miracle girl,’” John said.
Foster had several more surgeries, John said. In December, she entered a rehabilitation program for brain injury at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. There, Foster set her sights on the Boston Marathon.
“My physical therapist asked me the question, ‘What are your goals?’” she said. “And I immediately said, ‘Get me to run again.’ Period.”
Payal Fadia, a physician who oversaw part of Foster’s recovery, didn’t think Foster would be ready in time. When Foster entered Fadia’s outpatient program in late January, she was still using a walker and struggling with her balance. She’d lost muscle mass from being bedridden. But Fadia was struck by Foster’s determination. Foster said she pictured herself running faster than her body could, as if she could will herself onto the racecourse.
“I’m sitting there, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to walk fast on a treadmill,” Foster recalled. “But in my mind, I’m running like a cheetah.”
Week by week, Foster found her feet. She left the Shepherd Center in late March, less than a month before the Boston Marathon. Fadia and her team cleared Foster to run accompanied by Tim Altendorf, her longtime running partner. A final complication — pulling her groin on a warm-up run before the marathon — didn’t dissuade her.
On Monday morning, Foster and Altendorf said a prayer at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., and set off on the 26-mile road to Boston.
The marathon was the hardest of Foster’s career, she said. Her legs burned, and her groin injury kept her in pain for most of the run. Altendorf said she appeared to slow at times. But he knew how to fire her up.
“If you want to motivate her, you just tell her she can’t do anything,” Altendorf said. “Like, ‘Rachel, come on, let’s just walk a little bit.’ She’ll just step it up.”
Cheering from the side of the road was John, who held a sign with his affectionate nickname for Foster: “My lil trout.” Altendorf’s family stood next to him with signs that quoted “The Shawshank Redemption”: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies!”
When Foster and Altendorf passed the finish line, they held hands and threw them in the air in triumph. It felt surreal for Foster — the completion of the far-fetched goal that had pushed her through months of therapy.
“All that time, I had Boston in the back of my mind,” she said.
Foster has spent the rest of the week sharing the news with friends and all the doctors and therapists who helped her, she said. After following her rehabilitation, neither Nelson nor Fadia were fazed by her run.
“That part’s not a miracle,” Nelson said. “That, to me, is Rachel.”
Foster still isn’t fully recovered, she added. She’ll continue physical therapy for her injuries when she returns to Oklahoma. She’ll continue running, too.
“More marathons are next,” she said. “I am not done.”