TRUMBULL — With her friends in Trumbull enjoying their annual July 4th activities, Katie Foley was 728 miles away, in a much more spartan environment.
While Foley’s friends were laying out in the sun, Foley was working under it, putting in seven-hour days. Her sweat-stained clothes felt much different than her track uniform upon crossing the finish line.
So did the level of satisfaction.
“I’m used to not being around for the holiday now,” Foley said. “I have no problem with it.”
For the third straight year, Foley took part in the Appalachia Service Project, which brings thousands of volunteers from around the country during the summer to rural regional areas to repair homes for low-income families.
Foley, who graduated from Trumbull High last month just two weeks after setting the meet record in the 800 meters at the CIAC Class LL championships, spent last week in Ermine, Ky., working on the insulation of a house.
“Our motto is making the homes warmer, safer and drier, and I think we made it warmer for them so it’s satisfying knowing the work, while it isn’t up to a contractor’s quality, it’s still changing their lives,” Foley said. “It’s a really good feeling to know that.”
Foley, who will be competing at UConn in the fall after a breakout spring season, said as a sophomore she first heard about ASP from Pablo Sevilla, a Spanish teacher at Trumbull. That summer she worked on a project in West Virginia. Last year she was in North Carolina.
“I loved it and I’ve kept coming back,” Foley said. “I was just curious about it. A lot of people go to Africa or third world countries, and that’s important too. A person down there was saying Appalachia is like a third world country. I just think it’s important to help people who live in the United States. I think it’s a good cause.”
Foley said she spends much of the year fundraising. There are monthly training meetings starting in the fall, where the volunteers make flower boxes to practice necessary skills like cutting wood and hammering.
“It is kind of learn as you go,” Foley said.
This year Foley was part of a group of 77 people, many from Trumbull and some from other parts of the state and New York, that made the 13-hour trip to Kentucky. They drove down in sports utility vehicles and then were split into units that worked on different houses.
Foley said the typical day started at 7 in the morning, with breakfast and then assigned chores. She would arrive at the house she was working on at 9 and stay until late afternoon.
Dinner was at 6, followed by evening gatherings and then the volunteers had the rest of their nights free. Foley said typical activities included playing soccer and basketball, or just hanging out.
The volunteers stayed at schools, sleeping on air mattresses.
“It takes adjusting,” Foley said. “They don’t have showers there so we showered with a hose. But it’s the least we can do, take a cold shower every day.”
Foley said a strong relationship is shaped with the families whose homes they repair.
“This year it was harder to come home because we form like a bond,” she said. “We always cry leaving our family because they are so nice and grateful when we leave them.”
Foley had a lot to come home to. After a subpar indoor track season after a bout with the flu, she ran the race of her career at the Class LL championships, winning the 800 in a meet-record time of 2:13.47, about two seconds off of her personal best and nearly four seconds faster than her average time during the spring.
“It’s more confidence than anything,” Foley said. “Since I always run against the same people, I know how they run a race and what they like to do. Sometimes that will psych me out and others I’ll let it hype me up. I went out there wanting to win and not worrying what they were doing. It was awesome. When I crossed the finish line I didn’t even know what to do with myself.”
Foley’s decision to attend UConn came with greater clarity.
“I really loved the coach and all the girls on the team,” she said. “My favorite part was at a lot of other schools I looked at, the distance team was all friends, the throwers were all friends, the field events and sprinters. But at UConn they’re all very good friends with each other. It’s a very united program. I just thought having all the Division I sports, and it’s a very good school.”
Foley was accepted into the honors program. She plans to major in biology and would like to become a pediatrician.
“I’m going to run cross country for the first time because they want anyone who runs the 800 or above to do it,” said Foley, who played soccer in the fall for Trumbull. “They are kind of going to play with me to see if I’m more of an 800 runner or a miler. I’m excited.”