If Wildflower were a movie it would require a leading man. But first you need an elevator pitch. How about this? Forest Gump meets Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. An epic about an undersized seven year-old who is told that he is handicapped and must wear leg braces, has his brand-new bicycle taken away, gets kicked out of his school, spends three years at a handicapped facility, becomes a champion runner, searches vainly for the perfect bike, makes and witnesses triathlon history and finds the love of his life. This odyssey will make you laugh and cry. You will never want to leave the theater, even if you badly need to use the restroom. And at the end, you will stand up and cheer as the hero again leads the pack and breaks the finish line tape at an event that evokes memories of Woodstock. This movie could only be about one magical place and one man, Wildflower triathlete Duane Franks, a leading man on and off the course.
byteclay.com recently spoke with Duane Franks about his cinematic life.
Mark Davis: It’s 1968 and you’ve got your leg braces off and your brand-new green Barracuda stingray bike on. You are starting to live the dream… How could life get even better?
Duane Franks: My mom married my stepfather Carrol in 1969 when I was eleven. We moved into a nice house with a yard in Claremont about a week before Neal Armstrong walked on the moon. This lifestyle of having a house, a yard and a dog had been unknown for me. This was like winning a million dollars in the lottery; this was my dream to actually have a father figure. The first time I ever met Carrol, my mother brought him into my room and I was on the top bunk of a maritime-themed bunk bed. My bunk bed actually had a helm to turn and I was pretending to helm the ship. My mother says, “Honey, I want you to meet Carrol.” I just looked at him and said, “Are you going to be my Dad?” That was the very first step of a normalized life for me, age 11 all the way up to high school.
I played Little League and I developed my skills late because I wore the braces. I played Pop Warner football. I didn’t weigh enough, but I was crazy and tough. I was a valuable part of that team, a defensive back that was fast and would hit anybody anywhere. I learned to tackle low because everyone was larger than me. I would grab their legs and hogtie them. Because I didn’t weigh enough, the whole team would get around me and I would put weights down my football pants and then get on the scale. That was the only way I could make the weight to play. And then my teammates would huddle around me again and I would take the weights out. I was 13 or 14. The compliment I would always get was “You’re pretty good for a little guy.”
I graduated from high school in 1977 and eventually attended Cal Poly Pomona.
MD: Is this when you started doing triathlon?
DF: Yes. The only problem is I didn’t have a bike; I hadn’t had a bike for several years because I was driving to school.
After my last final for the May 1981 semester, my friends invited me to drive to Las Vegas. I thought it was going to be a long drive so I bought a bicycling magazine because I thought there might be ads in there about buying a bicycle. I didn’t find any bikes but I did find a story on one of the first Ironman races in Hawaii. I remember seeing the Ironman on Wide World of Sports, this was the first year they had it in Kona. I got to the casino put the magazine away and my friends started playing craps. I didn’t know what craps was and my friends said just do what we do. All of the sudden we hit. Great! We hit again and we keep hitting and hitting. I won about $400 when I cashed out. We didn’t spend the night, we drove right back home and we arrived just about the time Bud’s Bike Shop opened. I went right into the bike shop, pulled out the $400 and said; I want a bike. They sold me a Univega with alloy rims. I decided to do the Del Mar Olympic triathlon.
Next up: Duane’s first triathlon. Stay tuned…