‘Focus on the things that make you happy’

Clinton Foriska

A high-GPA student and Army veteran who looks as if he could still handle active duty, Clinton Foriska is quick to smile and make a light remark. He won’t dwell on some of the things that led him to receive the University of Washington Bothell Chancellor’s Medal, which is presented to inspirational students who overcome significant obstacles. 

“You push it back a little bit and focus on the things that make you happy,” says Foriska. 

After earning a biology degree, he’s looking forward to starting medical school at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, a private four-year school for osteopathic medicine in Yakima, Washington.  

The 31-year-old Monroe resident says he’s not a traditional student. Foriska and his two brothers grew up on a remote ranch in northern California with a single dad. Joining the Army right out of high school was a family tradition as well as his best option.  

“The only way I thought to pay for college was to join the military. It turns out there are other ways,” he laughs. “I took the harder route, I guess.” 

Foriska served two stints in the Army over 10 years. He was deployed to Iraq in 2009 for about a year. Jumping out of helicopters, kicking down doors and seeing combat left him 100 percent disabled with back, neck and ankle injuries and PTSD.  

The first day “in country,” a roadside bomb went off two trucks away. Nobody was hurt in that blast, but it was traumatizing. “Right in that moment I was like, “Oh my god! These people are really trying to kill you!” 

Later, he was on the scene of another bombing that took two lives. “You see terrible things happen to your friends.” 

Medically retired in 2014, Foriska started college at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia and St. Martin’s University in Lacey. About the time he transferred to UW Bothell in 2017, he learned he had cancer and missed a quarter for surgery. He’s still receiving treatment. 

“You’ve got to keep moving on, you know. The best thing to do is not dwell on having cancer, too much,” he says. 

At UW Bothell, Foriska earned a near-4-point GPA and was active in the biology club. Now, he’s thinking of the future with his wife, an intensive care nurse, their 1-year-old son and earning a D.O. degree. As a doctor, Foriska hopes to attend to veterans in rural areas like his father, a Vietnam War veteran poisoned by the herbicide Agent Orange. 

“He’s a veteran who lives out in the middle of nowhere. If anything happens to him, there’s no doctor within 80 – 100 miles.” 

The Chancellor’s Award “signifies the path that it took to get me here,” Foriska says. 

“I guess I do what I can to overcome whatever circumstances. Like with cancer — change my lifestyle, change my diet — and in the meantime, try to not let it get the best of me. I keep a good attitude, I guess.”