Longtime Columbus track and field coach Fred Foyo loved listening to classic rock as much as sports.
His favorite song was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”
So much so that his daughter, Kristina, danced with him to that song at her wedding.
On a mini-getaway recently with her and his son, Fernando, Foyo asked them if they knew why his favorite line from the song was “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?”
“He told us he hoped he would be remembered when he was gone,” Fernando Foyo said. “Always being humble we had to remind him that of course he would be. The lyrics were his way of encouraging us to live in a way to be remembered after you’re gone because that’s what life meant to him.”
Foyo’s lasting legacy, which spanned four decades coaching at Columbus, isn’t likely to be forgotten.
Foyo, a two-time state championship coach with the Explorers and longtime assistant coach on the school’s football team, died this past Saturday. Foyo had been hospitalized for two days after he collapsed during Columbus’ district track championship meet the previous April 15.
Foyo was in the midst of trying to lead Columbus to a third consecutive boys’ track state title after leading the school to its first two in 2018 and 2019.
He was 64.
Foyo became the head coach of the Explorers’ track team in 1988 and spent years helping to build them into one of the state’s powerhouses.
Foyo saw those results begin to come to fruition over the past couple of decades as Columbus posted state runner-up finishes in 2009, 2010 and 2017 before their back-to-back victories. Foyo, a longtime offensive line coach, was also a fixture on Columbus’ football coaching staff and was a part of their first state championship in 2019.
“Fred was the real deal,” said Columbus assistant principal John Lynskey, who coached and worked with Foyo for decades at the school. “He was a tremendous athlete and that level of competition carried over to his coaching.”
Foyo was born in Quebec, Canada, on Feb. 9, 1957, and adopted by Cuban parents. After spending the first few years of his life in Cuba, Foyo and his parents fled the Castro regime to Miami in the early 1960s.
Foyo graduated from Columbus in 1975 after becoming a first team All-Dade guard on the football team and an accomplished shot put and discus thrower on the track team. Foyo went on to earn All-Conference honors as an offensive lineman at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
But after his playing days were over, Foyo found his passion for coaching.
He came back to his alma mater years later and joined both teams as an assistant coach.
“He was a great shot and discus guy in high school, but he didn’t know much [in the beginning] about the sprints or jumps or pole vault,” Lynskey said. “He taught himself all about it and he studied. He wanted the kids to win and win the right way.”
On the football staff, Foyo learned under former Columbus coach Dennis Lavelle, who happened to be one of his coaches when he played.
Foyo and Lavelle developed a lasting friendship and taught math together for many years at the school.
“He just loved the kids which is something that kind of gets ignored in education nowadays,” said Lavelle, who is now retired and living in Stuart. “He loved being with them on the field and in the classroom. It made him a tremendous teacher and coach. And they loved him too. You can’t fool kids. They pick up on it if you don’t really care. He had that personality where he really loved them and they knew it.”
But it was Foyo’s willingness to go above and beyond for his student-athletes is what separated him from others according to Lynskey.
“There were a myriad of times that I saw Fred reach into his pocket and give some money to a kid who didn’t have lunch money or didn’t have gas money,” Lynskey said. “That’s the person Fred was. He once paid for a kid to be able to go to prom and didn’t want the kid to know who did it. If a kid didn’t have a father to go with him to Senior Night, Fred would step in for him. Those are the things I’ll always remember.”
When Foyo wasn’t coaching, he loved watching sports, cooking and taking trips with his family whether it was going on cruises or packing 10 members of his family into a van and riding all the way up to New York for a vacation in the Big Apple.
“When one of my step brothers Eric went to Dickinson College up in Pennsylvania, he just packed the van to go see him,” said Kristina Foyo, who played softball at Lourdes Academy and is a veterinarian living in Massachusetts. “We were always like the Griswolds when we are on vacation. Things were crazy but a lot of fun.”
Foyo coached Fernando, who is now coaching baseball in West Palm Beach at Columbus, and always maintained his ability to relate to kids to this day.
“He always put us before himself,” said Columbus senior thrower Sebastien Laraque, who is also an offensive lineman on the football team. “Every time I’d have a bad practice, he’d pull my aside and tell me to focus and give me advice.”
This season as schools returned to action during the COVID-19 pandemic, Foyo continued to teach and coach as Columbus is again among the top track teams in the state.
It’s been a difficult week for Laraque and his teammates since losing Foyo.
The team gathered this past Monday for a private mass in his honor and returned to practice as they prepare to compete in regionals on April 30th and at the state meet in Jacksonville on May 8. Junior sprinter Ken Moore leads a talented group, which appears to have another state title within reach.
Laraque said the goal for the rest of the season is clear.
“He died watching us do what we love,” Laraque said. “We just want to dedicate the rest of the season to him and win it for him.”
Funeral services for Foyo will be held privately for his family. Columbus is planning to hold a mass in Foyo’s honor at a later date, which will be open to the public.