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Dick Fosbury Loved Kids Revolutionized Sports
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Tuesday, September 26, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Dick Fosbury may have revolutionized the sport of high jumping when his back-first Fosbury Flop won him Olympic gold at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

But he was no Martha Stewart when it came to being a neat freak. Fosbury was famous for his piles of paper, which climbed to the ceiling.  And, when he grabbed a bite to eat enroute to city council meetings as a young engineer, he tossed the empty coffee cups and sandwich wrappings on the floor of his car.

Ketchum resident Margaret Stewart recounted that Fosbury offered her a ride up while she was hitchhiking shortly after she moved to Ketchum. The floor of the passenger side was a foot deep in coffee cups and chip bags. And, as she wiggled her feet, she felt something hard.

“Oh, that’s my Olympic medal,” Fosbury told her. “I figure this is the safest place for it. No one would ever think to steal it here because they could never find it.”

Fosbury stories were du jour Sunday afternoon at Bellevue City Park as Fosbury’s widow Robin Tomasi threw a Celebration of Life for the legendary athlete who passed away March 12, 2023, of lymphoma, which he had been diagnosed with 15 years earlier.

Tomasi has been busy this summer taking part in Olympic tributes to her late husband.

Born in Portland, Ore., in 1947, Fosbury competed on the track and field team at Oregon State University in Corvallis where, one attendee said, he bought a juicer as big as a Volkswagen Beetle and consumed so much carrot juice he literally turned orange.

Upon moving to Sun Valley 46 years ago, he co-founded Galena Engineering, using his engineering expertise to build the first bike path in the valley through Elkhorn even as people questioned the value of having a bike path.

He narrowly missed a bid to serve as representative in the Idaho State House but was successful in winning a seat as a Blaine County Commissioner--a post he held until his death. He served as president of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Association for 12 years and president of the World Olympians Association for four.

“What I remember about Dick is how willing he was to talk about things,” said Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks. “He was an open, friendly kind of guy always open to suggestions on what was the best solution.”

Fosbury met his wife Robin Tomasi when she taught him the two-step during dance lessons. Tomasi described him as a passionate person who cared much about the county, Idaho, the Olympics and being county commissioner.

“And he really cared about his family,” she added.

His one great passion, she added, was the dump. He wanted to make it easy to recycle. He was so tied to his work, she said, that even while in Huntsman Cancer Center where he stayed from January to March someone would try to wake him up and he’d mumble, “No I’m busy. I’m on the phone.”

Always on the run, he’d get in the car with a bowl of cereal filled to the brim. And, when Tomasi cleaned up the spilt cereal in his car as a birthday present, he still managed to find a newspaper in the car that was 20 years old.

“We never argued,” Tomasis said. “The worst thing he could say was, ‘Robin, I think you might be wrong on this.’ ” He could create a result better than you could’ve gotten without him.”

Keith and Paula Perry noted that they lived three doors away from Fosbury on West Canyon Drive in Ketchum when they first moved to Ketchum. Keith Perry, who came from a family of sports fans, was starstruck.

“But Dick was so nice,” said Paula Perry. “You would have never known he was a sports star.”

Fosbury was devoted to his work, attending every meeting of the Blaine County Housing Authority board, which is unusual for a liaison from the commissioner board, said Keith Perry. He took part in meetings remotely from his hospital bed and he funneled millions of dollars of pandemic funding into affordable housing projects.

One man recounted how Fosbury showed at his house during the 2017 flood: “I was losing a foot of yard every 15 minutes and Dick said, ‘I figured you might need me.” He came up with a plan and called around and saved our house.”

Fosbury was equally devoted to youth. Not only did he coach Wood River Valley youth in track and field but he championed the Simplot Games—the largest indoor track and field meet in the nation. Dick Phillips of the Simplot Company, which sponsors the games, recounted how Fosbury recruited Olympians to help with a summer track camp. Even after he was diagnosed with lymphoma, Fosbury would undergo  treatment in Twin Falls, drive to Pocatello and work with the kids before driving back to Twin Falls for more treatment.

“We could not believe this man loved these kids so much,” said Phillips.

Fosbury insisted on signing congratulatory letters for the 600 athletes who won medals, rather than use an electronic signature machine. And, when organizers debated whether to end the Olympic-style parade for the 2,200 participants, Fosbury quickly responded: “I think every amateur athlete deserves an Olympic-style parade.”

Sun Valley’s Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis credited Fosbury for helping to get the word Paralympic inserted into the title of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “That was the power of Dick. Dick will live forever in this community, which he loved and treasured.”

Blaine County Administrator Many Pomeroy said that the county plans to honor Fosbury by naming the new bridge at Colorado Gulch in Fosbury’s honor when they erect it in the summer of 2024. Fosbury had been working to towards a replacement since the previous bridge was washed out in the 2017 flood.

Not only are donations being solicited for the bridge through the Wood River Land Trust but the county is soliciting names.

“We don’t want to just name it the Dick Fosbury Memorial Bridge,” Pomeroy said.

Wood River Land Trust Director Scott Boettger said he couldn’t think of a better way to honor a man who made such a big difference.

“Dick was an engineer working for developers, but he cared about open space,” he said. “And this bridge is going to be something that will make a difference in our community.”

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