December 24, 1995 in City

It Took An Olympic Effort, But She Got Her Ring

By The Spokesman-Review

It was supposed to be the Christmas surprise to end all Christmas surprises, but Vernie Foxley’s pals were like anxious kids.

They just couldn’t hold off until Dec. 25.

So Christmas came early the other day at a USA Track and Field convention Foxley attended in Atlanta.

During a lunch break, the Spokane woman’s friends handed her a box. Giving them a puzzled look, she tore through the wrapping and immediately began to cry.

In her hand was the one gleaming item she wanted more than anything, but feared was a decade out of reach.

It was an expensive gold ring with a blue stone, a carved runner and a year: 1984.

The ring that commemorates Foxley’s role as an official at the Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles.

Working the Olympics was perhaps the proudest moment of Foxley’s 30-year involvement with amateur athletics.

She was a pioneer, one of only 14 women who officiated the track and field events with what she calls a “good old boys club” of nearly 200 men. She was the only official from Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

But Foxley was going through a divorce at the time. She was flat broke. Fitting such a keepsake as the ring into her meager budget was way out of the question.

“We were told we had one shot to buy a ring. They are all numbered. No more were supposed to be made,” says Foxley, who still gets choked up talking about her precious gift.

Foxley, 58, manages athletic programs for Spokane Community College. She is also a longtime board member and official for USA Track and Field, the governing organization for those athletic events.

She became involved with track accidentally, when Foxley and her husband formed a running club to give kids something to do back in the 1960s.

Since then, sports have provided many highlights.

Foxley was there in 1984 when South African distance runner Zola Budd tripped American Mary Decker, ending her dreams for Olympic gold.

She traveled to Budapest as the U.S. women’s team manager. She was officiating the 1992 Olympic trials when American decathlete champ Dan O’Brien shocked the nation by choking three times on the pole vault.

“I’ve had some great moments,” she says. But getting the ring “tops them all.”

It happened thanks to Foxley’s friends: Jim Murphy, a Spokane Juvenile Court judge, and Ken Caouette of Greenfield, Mass.

Murphy has been involved with USA Track and Field for years. He has a good shot at officiating the Olympics next July in Atlanta.

Caouette will be the head of officials for the Atlanta games. He worked with Foxley in Los Angeles and calls her a tireless worker who has given countless hours to the Olympics and amateur sports.

Last year, Foxley told her friends over dinner how disappointed she was at missing out on the ring that Caouette wears.

The two men later put their heads together and hatched a plan.

Caouette happily tracked down the ring manufacturer and made a pitch.

“I suppose it’s like having a ‘57 Chevy made,” says Murphy, laughing. “They still have all the dies and materials, you just have to talk the company into making one.”

Murphy’s job was more difficult: Getting Foxley’s ring size without her knowing something was going on.

Foxley’s children got the information so craftily that even Foxley doesn’t know how they did it. Her kids also took up a collection to help pay for the ring, which cost, Murphy adds, “in the hundreds of dollars.”

Giving it to her was “the warmest feeling I’ve ever had,” he says.

What could top such a Christmas-come-early surprise?

Foxley laughs. “There’s nothing else I’d want,” says the single woman, who now wears an Olympics ring on her wedding ring finger. “This is definitely it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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