-- Along a tedious and painful road to recovery, Kurtis Foster
has crossed paths with a number of milestones, often at once both ridiculous and sublime. There was the time he merely stood upright. There was the first time he lowered his weight cautiously on his still-broken left femur. And there were the first steps on that femur held together only by a long metal rod.
It's almost nice, you know. It almost pushes you more because you realize how much people care. You see people on the street and they say 'hi' and ask when you're coming back and, 'How is it going? It always pushes me harder. I'm not going to push it to the point of hurting myself, but I want to get back and show everybody what I'm doing to get back. - Foster on fans interest in his recovery
Then there were longer walks, the walks that left him drenched in sweat and well past the point of exhaustion.
There was the first time he drove a car, and the first time he folded his 6-foot-5 frame into the back seat of a car.
There were milestones for walks without crutches, then without a cane.
There was the walk down the aisle on his wedding day, and the summer BBQ where he hopped out of the way of an errant horseshow and landed on his left leg, only to look down and find everything fully intact.
Perhaps most symbolic, however, might be the first time he laced up his skates and took to the ice.
The big defenseman set sail on his surgically repaired leg's maiden voyage for 40 minutes on Tuesday, and he came back for more on Wednesday.
Foster appeared in the short corridor of the Wild's practice rink just before 10 a.m., clad in a Wild sweat suit and helmet, a stick from last season in his green and red gloves, then made his way to the ice for what turned out to be another 25 or so minutes of skating under his belt.
"It's just nice to get out there and smell the ice and feel you're part of the [action] again," Foster said afterward. "You know, [Tuesday] was a big day. Just taking a few steps on the ice was huge. [Wednesday], how good I felt, how I could take some strides -- and it's not pain in my bone anymore, it's just a little bit of muscle pain -- and I feel like I can push a little bit. It's a huge feeling."
Foster said he left his Tuesday afternoon post-skate therapy session barely able to walk to his car, but the pain subsided throughout the evening and he woke up feeling strong enough to go even harder on Wednesday.
In the course of the skate, Foster, whose left leg, even in sweat pants, did appear thinner than the right, took strides that lengthened throughout the morning, he shot some pucks and passed others to players working out in full pads. He was also able to make a few hockey stops, perhaps not with great authority, but, clearly, style points aren't the most important grade in this process. Besides, he did take a few shots -- leaned-on wristers buried under the bar from just inside the faceoff dot that betrayed no hint of the previous months of suffering that led to this day.
"[Tuesday] was a lot slower," he said. "I was kind of nervous, kind of trying to see what I could do. Coming in [Wednesday], I didn't know what to expect, but it felt pretty good."
Despite some muscle soreness, which Foster says is far better than the bone soreness that he has experienced, and as physically encouraging as the past two days have been, so has this been a mentally encouraging part of his recovery.
Foster is aiming for a December return to hockey (though he is being encouraged not to run until next summer), but he is on no strict time schedule.
"It's like a day-to-day thing," said Foster. "Every day, I just push it more and more. If it feels sore, I might hold back. If it feels good, just keep going. I'll try to skate every couple of days and continue my training."
Still, Foster isn't being graded exactly on what he can or can't do on the ice. The fact he is even there is progress enough.
"It's nice just to be out here with the guys, kind of be on the ice with [them]," said Foster, who stayed largely on one side of the ice while the other skaters practiced on the opposite side of the red line. "Even though they're at the other end, it's just nice to see them, pass a few pucks. It's nice just to be a part of the game again."