By James Harless
For the Call
SIDNEY — Joe Fuller has taken the road less travelled for the majority of his life. Joe, a 2014 graduate of Lehman Catholic High School and two-time NCAA Cross Country Nationals Qualifier at St. Leo University, almost seemed to have been destined to live an extraordinary life.
At just 20 months old, Joe’s life would be changed forever. In March of 1997, after more than three years of searching, waiting and praying, Bill and Jeanne Fuller found themselves en route to an orphanage in Chelyabinsk, Russia, to meet Joe.
Bill and Jeanne were informed prior to adopting their son, that he was placed into the orphanage following a six-month stay at a pediatric hospital receiving medical and treatment for his lungs and would continue to have issues with breathing for the remainder of his life.
“The events surrounding our adoption of Joe are just too ironic to be due to chance,” said Bill. “After going through the entire domestic adoption process we waited for years in the hope of something, but nothing ever came. We had actually almost given up hope on the whole thing, until one day we randomly came across an ad in the newspaper for a lawyer who specializes in international adoption. It was at this point things really took off.”
The adoption process began in the early months of 1994. It spanned multiple states and organizations. There were countless hours—if not days—of praying. It finally came to an end in the summer of 1996. The Fullers were put into contact with an adoption agency that specialized in adoptions from Russia, and in less than six months they were on their way to officially become proud parents of a baby boy named Joe.
“I credit my parents for instilling the importance of faith, family and giving back,” said Joe. “If it were not for my parents I would never have been given the opportunity to accomplish the things I have. I would never have been given the chance to attend Lehman Catholic, and become a part of such an amazing community.”
While attending LCHS, Joe took every opportunity he could to be involved. He ran cross country, ran track, wrestled, sang in the school musical, participated in the LCHS Science Fair, LCHS Science Olympiad, the Mock Trial and the Envirothon. He was a member of the Academia Team, Pro-life Guards Club, participated in the Cavs for a Cure campaign and was the President of the Stock club. He volunteered with Big Buddies and the Jr. Rotarians. He was a server at school mass, a member of the Spiritual Life Committee, an Eagle scout with the Boy Scouts and an active participant with 4-H. But with all of these extracurricular activities, Joe often found himself putting his academics on the back burner.
“I have discovered that time management and balancing things in your life is the key to success,” said Joe. “In high school I never had good grades—my grade point average suffered because I didn’t balance my time. It wasn’t until I started my search of a college that I realized, if I wanted to be successful in life, I would need to invest myself into my academics.”
When it came time for Joe to choose a college, he knew exactly what he was looking for in a university. He set criterion that a university needed to meet if he were to achieve success and reach his goals. This criterion led him to St. Leo University.
“I know it can be a difficult decision for some students to choose which college they want to attend, but for me the choice wasn’t that difficult,” said Joe. “I knew exactly what I wanted in a university. I wanted something similar to Lehman Catholic. I wanted to compete at the NCAA level. I wanted a school that wasn’t in a big city—it had to have a strong sense of community, family and call to service. Lastly, due to my faith it needed to be a Catholic University.”
Currently a junior at St. Leo University, Joe is a two-sport athlete, became a two-time NCAA Cross Country Nationals qualifier, and a Deputy Grand Knight and Program Director with the Knights of Columbus Abbot Charles Moore Council. He volunteers with the Special Olympics, and is a Merit Badge Counselor and Assistant Den Chief with the Boys Scouts of America. He excels academically, yet despite all his success he only grew more motivated.
“When my first semester grades were published, I saw that I did extremely well, and that motivated me to do more and be more,” said Joe. “I was able to witness firsthand what a little motivation can really accomplish.”
It was this motivation and success at St. Leo that ultimately led Joe to make a decision that would change the lives of people he did not know, and would never be able to meet.
On his twenty-first birthday, with the desire to solve a need that goes unnoticed by millions of Americans every day, Joe made the decision to start the I Play Track Foundation, a charitable organization designed to solve two issues affecting runners everywhere.
“There is an overwhelming problem that numerous student-athletes around the United States are currently facing,” said Joe. “They lack proper running shoes. There are so many runners that just do not have the money to purchase additional pairs of shoes.”
The other issue runners often face is on the opposite end of the spectrum: what to do with old running shoes.
“There are runners out there who are able to purchase a new pair of shoes every season, or when a new model becomes available, but many of these individuals don’t know what to do with their old pairs of shoes and end up tossing them out, or putting them into storage,” said Joe.
The idea to start the I Play Track Foundation came to Joe after years of competing and seeing so many student-athletes who didn’t have the proper running shoes, or shoes that were falling apart often being held together by duct or athletic tape.
“It became my goal to be able to provide every student who has a desire to run with a pair of proper-fitting shoes,” said Joe. “A student who desires to run should not have to desire a pair shoes.”
St. Leo University has provided Joe the opportunity to compete on a national level, which in turn has allowed him to come into contact with numerous coaches and athletes who would be able to provide him with an effective way to discover and supply runners with proper shoes.
“When it comes to competitive running, shoes really make a difference, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well,” said Joe. “It really motivates them to excel in all aspects of life. I am an excellent example of the idea with athletic achievement there will be academic achievement.”
For some, I Play Track Foundation’s name may be confusing, or sound a bit odd, but when asked about the name he chose for his organization, Joe was quick to answer.
“The name will make sense to any athlete who chose running as their main sport,” said Joe. “When someone finds out you are an athlete, the question they most often ask is, ‘What sport do you play?’ It can often be an annoyance trying to explain you run cross country, or the events you run in track, so I took an annoyance, made it a positive, and now I proudly tell people, I play track.”
To date, Joe has been able to deliver more than 20 pairs of shoes to five different states, but unfortunately a daunting number of requests have gone unfilled due to lack of resources.
“I simply do not have enough sizes to meet the requests I have for shoes,” said Joe. “I think people would be shocked by the demand for these types of shoes. I would like to see the future of running get better, and I truly believe this organization will be able to make that happen. I have seen how far a small spark of motivation can carry someone.”
Although Joe is far from his goal, and isn’t close to being satisfied with the amount of shoes he has been able to deliver in six short months, the shoes the I Play Track Foundation has been able to deliver have allowed runners to qualify for state competitions, set new personal records, and left coaches wishing words could adequately express the joy and thankfulness on their runners’ faces.
I Play Track Foundation is a living dream for Joe. He is able to give back to the running community—a community he loves. With roots that stretch from the small town of St. Leo, Florida, all the way back to Sidney, Ohio, Joe is quick to deflect and praise, and is reluctant to or perhaps too humble to accept any credit for success. He simply admits he wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it were not for all of the teachers, coaches, club leaders and scout leaders he encountered while at Lehman.
“I was lucky enough to be able to have a variety of leaders who built me up and provided me with enough support and guidance to give me the chance to succeed,” said Joe “I truly believe God has a plan to use all of us.”
I Play Track Foundation is currently only accepting running shoes and spikes, and is not yet prepared to handle monetary donations. If you or someone you know is getting rid of, or are no longer in need of running shoes, please consider donating them.
Make Joe’s Dream your dream, and donate today.