Frank Newman: another running icon passes

The news didn’t come as a complete shock, but it was still sad to hear.

A co-worker of mine let me know as he was placing obituaries on the page on Saturday that  Frank Newman had died.

Frank had battled cancer for years, but it still gave me pause when I heard the news.

A few years ago, I learned that Frank had surgery to remove cancerous tumors in his chest in 2002. Five years later he was still taking chemotherapy drugs – the tumors had reappeared.

But Frank was always there on the final Saturday morning in May when the Frank Newman Marathon/Relay was ready to step off. I’ve run in the race probably five times, mostly the half-marathon.

And each year when I arrived at the start along Bridger Canyon Drive, just short of Bridger Bowl, I wondered if Frank would be there. Sure enough, he’d step out of his car, usually wearing a Montana State sweatshirt. It was a joy to go over and shake his hand.

Then a year would go by and when May rolled around, I’d begin to wonder if I’d see Frank again. He was always there.

This past May, after Ed Anacker, another Bozeman running icon, passed away, I decided I wanted to run the full Frank Newman Marathon. I’d always stopped halfway, but I felt a kinship to this small-town, laid-back race since Ed had died.

He usually ran the relay as part of the “Silver Snails,” and was a charter member of the Big Sky Wind Drinkers, a running club that Frank helped start in 1973- though Frank took little credit for its formation. He gave it all to Andy Blank.

The Newman Marathon isn’t a race where you get a packet of goodies that most won’t use anyway. There are no chips, no T-shirts and you can’ t use it as a Boston Marathon qualifier.

But you can show up that morning, pay three bucks, and then decide: half or full. No pressure, no pre-race jitters, no lousy night’s sleep.

I went for the full this time; I’m so glad I did.

Frank was there at the start, as usual, but that’s not all. He was at all the water stops as well. I’d see his vehicle drive by and look forward to seeing him up ahead. He was always so encouraging, with his soft voice under his short-cropped white hair.

And when the race was over, and everyone gathered at Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Frank had a trophy – and a handshake – for every finisher.

Sadly, that was the last time I saw Frank.

I can only imagine what his struggle with cancer was like. He had to give up running several years ago, which I’m sure was painful in itself, but he never displayed what was going inside.

Frank was a department head at Montana State University, but I only knew him through his marathon. I never saw him run, but I admired the heck out of him for the courage he showed while battling cancer.

Bozeman has lost two pillars of its running community in the past seven months. The Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run and the Frank Newman Marathon will continue on, though it’ll be sad not to see them at those races any longer.

Still, we should all be grateful to have been around them for so long. Their dedication – and their character – will be missed.


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November 2011
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