Kyley Foster began her track and field career at the University of North Dakota as a walk-on and finished it as the program’s all-time pole vault record holder.
Foster wrapped up her senior season in 2019 in remarkable fashion.
Outdoors she was a NCAA West Region preliminary round qualifier in the pole vault and placed 24th. She became the first woman in UND history to clear 14-feet at an outdoor event winning the vault title at the South Dakota Challenge. She competed in a jump off for the Summit League championship at Western Illinois taking runner-up honors and was an All-Summit League academic award winner.
Indoors she was a second team All-American placing 10th at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Birmingham, Alabama.
Foster and throws teammate Molli Detloff became the first Fighting Hawks in North Dakota's Division I history to advance to the NCAAs.
She qualified after winning the pole vault at The Summit League Indoor Championships winning with a personal and school-record clearance of 14-2.75. She became the first woman in University of North Dakota history to clear 14-feet indoors in the event and improved her mark at each meet from Jan. 12 to the NCAA Championship on March 9.
Foster first broke the UND school record in the pole vault as a freshman and kept breaking it her entire career before graduating last spring with two degrees, one in Commercial Aviation Helicopter and another in Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Foster has remained at UND and is employed as a certified flight instructor for the UND flight school while training for a run at the Olympic trials.
Fighting Hawks jump coach Dan McCarty has continued to plan her workout regimen while Foster spends her time training future pilots.
“Once I graduated, my coach and I had a chat to figure out if I was going to keep pursuing pole vault post-collegiately and of course, we’re going for it,” she said.
Foster has been training all year for the trials that were scheduled for June 27. The Olympics and the trials are currently postponed with the rest of the world due to COVID-19.
Her workouts include two pole vault jump days and seperate days of short sprints, long runs into a recovery day.
Foster was going to travel and compete unattached with UND during the college outdoors season.
“Track is kind of a fun sport where you can compete unattached as long as they are Division I college meets,” she said. “Some of the bigger meets will have elite flights, which are typically professional vaulters.”
The recent public health crisis has future plans at a standstill.
“I feel like these past two weeks have been wild,” said Foster. “Literally, everything is in the air.
UND’s campus is shut down the rest of the semester so no flight school and no indoor vault training.
“Now we’re going to have to be creative on training,” said Foster. “I’m really hoping it’s going to be a warm spring so I can get outside as fast as possible.”
Foster is also a volunteer assistant coach for UND pole vaulters working alongside McCarty and sharing her knowledge from four incredible seasons with the Fighting Hawks.
“He (McCarty) has a lot of kids he’s in charge of so I just try to help out as much as I can in any way,” she said.
The Fighting Hawks were in the air early on March 12 flying to compete in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina when the news from the NCAA about canceling the track season was being announced.
“It was the craziest first 48 hours,” said Foster. “We are a big team. We were trying to figure out how to get back.”
A few hours after landing the NCAA officially canceled the outdoor season. Fortunately, the meet was hosted by the city of Myrtle Beach and not a college. UND competed on the 13th in what was one of the last college sporting events going at the time.
Foster knows the disappointment she would have felt missing out on her senior season and has talked to UND teammates, along with good friend and former Laker Shay Nielsen about missing her last year with the Gophers.
“There are not even words that you can say to comfort someone in that situation,” Foster said. “You can’t make them feel better. You’ve put in so much time, effort and sacrifice just to not even give it a shot and see what you could’ve done. You can’t do anything to even make it any better. You’re there for them, but it’s a heartbreak.”
Both former Laker stars have had recent ups and downs.
When not flying on the track in pole vault, Foster spends a considerable amount of time in the air teaching at UND’s flight school.
Her regular days offer a variety of challenges from ground school components where Foster teaches one-on-one with students and flight lessons inside the helicopter. Her students range from private pilots just getting started to commercial courses for advanced operators.
“I’ll start my day with a private pilot student where I’m teaching the most basic components of flying and my very next flight could be someone who is at the very end of their career,” she said. “It’s a whole different flight. Being an instructor is really rewarding and every day is different.”
Instructing is a common path for recent graduates at UND.
“Right now, I graduated; I have all my certificates, but I don’t have a lot of experience,” said Foster. “A really common way for pilots is to become an instructor to get more time in the air.”
Foster’s next step is a move to commercial tour operations and plans to relocate to Las Vegas.
“I’ll fly the grand canyon and the Las Vegas strip and be a tour pilot there,” she said.
Her ultimate goal is to become an Emergency Medical Services pilot.
“Each job has certain experience requirements, flight time and certificates; it’s a process,” she said. “It’s kind of like picking where you want to end up and how you plan to get there.”
That is a recipe for success Foster has had since leaving Detroit Lakes.