Entrepreneurand athlete Joy Foster tells Jo Duckles about sport, business, her family and how she regained her Christian faith out of tragedy.
I met Joy at the Wheelhouse, an office space by day and pub by night, in east Oxford. Just days before she had posted a photo on Facebook of herself outside 10 Downing Street. The Government was curious to see how Joy’s company, TechPixies, was getting on following a surprise visit from Theresa May earlier in the year.
“When I found out the Prime Minister was coming to meet me, I was so nervous that my first reaction was to turn to prayer. I knew a visit from Theresa May might catapult us into the spotlight, and it did. The night before we met, I was on the phone to the Revd Andrew McKearney, the vicar of my church in Iffley, asking him to pray that what I said would accurately represent the needs of women returning to work and be taken seriously,” says Joy.
That prayer must have been answered as Joy has recently returned to Downing Street to speak to a key advisor about why the TechPixies programme works and to discuss ways to help women return to work after a career break. Born in Denver, Colorado, Joy was brought up a Christian, attending church-led summer camps. It was a Rotary International French exchange at the age of 15 that saw her first question her beliefs.
“The family I stayed with weren’t Christians but were doing amazing work helping children and adults with special needs go to school and to work, to function in society. I saw these amazing people doing work for disadvantaged people. I couldn’t understand why they would go to hell and I wouldn’t because what they believed in was different.”
Unable to believe in the ‘black and white’ Christianity she had grown up with, Joy says she went into the wilderness with God until her early 20s. But when her dad took his own life she began to worry about life after death. “Dad died on the operating table during open-heart surgery. They brought him back to life but he suffered air to his brain which caused him to become depressed. The anti-depressants they prescribed him made him worse and he lost control of his decisions.
“Some fundamentalists believe that if you kill yourself you don’t go heaven. I was scared and found myself worrying about it. That’s when I had my first real vision of Jesus. I dreamt that he came to me and told me not to worry because Dad was in heaven.”
Joy decided she was “back” as a Christian and made a radical career change. Deciding life was too short to sit in an office looking at numbers, she gave up a lucrative job as a trading assistant at a major financial firm to pursue a dream of going to the Olympics. Joy was a rower who had won Women’s Henley in 2001 when she was studying in the UK. “I was a strong club rower, but not good enough for the Olympic team, so I switched to archery,” she says.
The start of Joy’s archery career coincided with her baptism, and a journey that would transform her prayer life. Training with the number one coach in the world, Joy became the fifth best archer in America, falling just short of standard required for the Olympic team.
“I moved into the Olympic Training Centre wanting only to make the Olympic team and left understanding that the best way to live is to be ready and open to what God has in store,” says Joy.
Through archery, Joy re-connected with rower Tim Foster MBE who had won gold with James Cracknell, Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave in the 2000 Olympics.
“We had dated years earlier when I lived in London. I was running the Olympic news service for Archery in Beijing in 2008. Tim and I hadn’t seen each other for years. We went out for dinner in Beijing and two weeks later we were engaged. The chance of that happening without divine orchestration is probably a million to one. I didn’t make the Olympic team but I came home with an Olympic gold medallist who is the love of my life, and an extremely reliable and supportive partner in both family life and business pursuits.”
Joy’s first experiences in entrepreneurship happened in 2009 when Tim was based in Switzerland. As a ‘trailing spouse’, she did not speak German or understand local culture. She became a mother and to avoid becoming isolated at home, she welcomed an invitation from a friend at the church to work on a website dedicated to helping ex-pats connect with the local area.
The website was a success growing from 400 hits in the first year to 130,000 hits five years later. “It was a total God thing. The website has carried on and is now a community organisation with a community centre serving 5,000 people,” says Joy.
When the Fosters returned to the UK, Joy had secured a job working in digital marketing in London but was made redundant. So, after securing a grant to start social enterprise, she formed Made with Joy. The company started running three years ago as a web development agency and has helped teenagers and adults with learning disabilities and mental illness gain new skills and return to work.
Around this time Joy set herself three goals; to be happily married, to be there for her children and to be successful in business. Since then she’s launched TechPixies, the organisation that sparked the Prime Minister’s interest. TechPixies will have helped 100 mums to return to work by July next year. Joy believes the £16,000 grant for the TechPixies pilot was a gift from God. “We worked hard but it couldn’t have happened without divine intervention,” says Joy.
Meanwhile, Joy has taken up triathlon, and has a fourth goal; qualifying for Kona. Kona is the famous Ironman triathlon world championship race in Hawaii. It is notoriously hard for even the most talented and dedicated long-distance triathletes to qualify. “I was 36 when I read the book Qualifying for Kona by Raymond Brett. If you are going to have goals they might as well be lofty ones. It isn’t about the end result but the journey they take you on.”
Joy describes both her faith and her career as a roller coaster. “There are mountains and valleys. I have a personal goal, that one day, I will go through a challenging period without a single worry. I haven’t managed it yet but with God’s help, I hope to do it one day,” she adds.
Joy and Tim have two children, Heidi, seven and Asher, six. Joy worships at St Mary’s in Iffley where she helps run the children’s programme.
20TH SEPTEMBER 2017