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.
MD: When did you do your first Ironman?
October 1982. In those days, I got in by mailing them $100. We were 850 athletes; I finished about 270. We had age groups but the pros weren’t separated, as there was no prize money. Dave Scott, Scott Tinley and his brother Jeff, it was Mark Allen’s first race and Scott Molina. Dave Scott picked up his second win. I was probably 600 out of the water and I was up in the top fifty off of the bike. I fell back on the run. My bike split was 5:50 and my run split was 5:12 and that was the problem. At age 40, I ran the marathon in 3.5 hours and ran the entire race in just over ten hours. That was a big improvement from my first Ironman at age 22.
My 1982 Ironman was the first October Ironman in Kona. Essentially this was the first incarnation of what we know today as the annual Kona October Ironman.
When did you do your first Wildflower?
1992. Wildflower used to be a Kona qualifier. Everybody attended the awards ceremony because they gave away a Kestrel bicycle and two Kona race slots by random drawing of bib numbers. You had to be present to win, so nobody left.
MD: You and your wife Dorette, met at a triathlon.
DF: I was coaching Lori Capshaw at the 2001 Tiburon Triathlon and she introduced me to her best friend, Dorette Sommers. We started dating in 2004 after she had been cutting my hair for three years. I proposed to Dorette at the April 2008 Golden Gate Triathlon Club Wildflower training weekend.
MD: How does someone who has never been married and is about to turn fifty, propose to the one woman who made the cut?
DF: I was at the top of Nasty Grade, giving out water and electrolyte fluid to my athletes. Nasty Grade in April is beautiful; you’ve got the wildflowers and all the green rolling hills. Off to the right, there’s a beautiful white picket fence and beyond that is Lake San Antonio, look to your left you’ve got Lake Nascimiento. Perfect place for a proposal. Dorette was coming up and I had a couple of riders that I was trying to shoo off… The ring was in a box in my pocket and I may have pretended to pull it out of the toolbox like I was going to adjust her bike. I proposed and she said yes. Actually, when she saw the ring and realized what was going on, I probably never even had an opportunity to get the words out. We didn’t have much alone time because the other riders started arriving. I went back to taking care of the riders and Dorette was glowing and happy. It didn’t take very long before word spread of the proposal. Dorette decided she didn’t want to finish the ride; she stayed up there with me. One of my athletes Nate Helming hid a bottle of champagne for me and we had a nice celebration that night at the campsite. Lori Capshaw who had introduced us and her husband were also there.
MD: What kind of a wedding tops such a unique proposal?
DF: We got married on the beach at Kona on December 1st, the day after I completed the 2008 Ultraman World Championship. Dorette paced me during the 52 mile run on the Queen K and fellow Ultraman competitor, Vito Bialla officiated the ceremony. Four days later, I turned fifty.
MD: Dorette told me that she made sure you wouldn’t have any energy left to run away from the wedding.
Next up: Duane talks about his Wildflower history and offers his final thoughts in the conclusion of this series. Stay Tuned…