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: Tell me about your early childhood.
Duane Franks: My biological father Duane Harold Franks, left when I was five. My mother raised me as a single mom during the mid to late sixties. It was hard for her to make ends meet. She worked on a catering truck at the Long Beach Naval Base. She was dating a Marine and he once said it was very sad because all these young men at the base were going to Vietnam and many were not coming back.
She did her very best to give me a quality life but she couldn’t keep me with her because of her hours. She paid her hairdresser to take care of me along with her seven kids. It was a poor Mexican family that lived in Long Beach and I shared a room with two other boys.
I got to see my mother every other weekend and I considered those to be holidays when I got to go home to her apartment. This went on for about a year.
MD: How did you first find out you have an affliction with your legs?
DF: I had pneumonia but instead of holding my chest, I was holding my hip. A sharp doctor x-rayed my hip and saw that I had Legg-Calvé-Perthes. I remember clearly that I was seven years old because I had just got a new bicycle for my birthday and a big white helmet that had a light on it, it was called a “Johnny Lightning Helmet.” I loved that bike and I loved that helmet.
The doctor was explaining my condition and he made a motion, he held his legs out like there was something between them and then he made a hopping motion. He was telling my mother that was going to be me. I could see that my mother was really upset. Then they put me in a wheelchair and I was told not to put any weight on my leg. She rolled me out into the hallway and called my sister from a pay phone. I was about ten feet away and she turned her back to me and said, “We have to get rid of the bike.” I didn’t ask her about that… We drove home and she rolled me into the apartment and I said, “Where’s my bike?” I found out she had given it to some neighbors and I was heartbroken. Within a couple of days I was fitted with braces that kept my legs spread apart.
Legg-Calvé-Perthes caused the cartilage on the head of the femur to be soft and not fully matured. Any time it would have contact with the acetabulum, the hip socket, it would rub it down and could cause permanent damage. Forcing my legs apart was the only way I could put weight on them and avoid putting weight on the head of the femur. There would be a gap there. In that way, the cartilage between the head of the femur and the acetabulum would not be disturbed and have a chance to mature. I missed a week of school after I was first diagnosed.
Next up: Duane’s first day of school with the leg braces. Stay tuned…