Roth: ROC's Marathon Man left us a message to live by

In Norm Frank's living quarters at the Legacy at Clover Blossom in Brighton, a large map of the world hung on a wall, adorned with tiny pins.

The pins were placed in all the places Frank had run a marathon. In all 50 states, on four continents. From high above the Arctic Circle, to the equator. From Athens to Berlin, from London to Dublin.

In all, there were 965 pins representing the diary of Norm Frank.

"Perseverance," Frank's sister, Nancy Tuohey, said. "That's the word that defines his life. He wanted to run every race there was and it's amazing what he accomplished.''

What Norm Frank accomplished isn't quantified merely by the number of marathons he ran, but also by the number of people he inspired. Maybe not to run, but maybe to run over whatever obstacle life had put in their path.

Frank died Tuesday at age 83, crossing, as Bruce Bragg, his lifelong buddy from Parsells Avenue called it, "Finish line No. 966."

Norm was a late-blooming three-sport athlete at East High in the late 1940s, with basketball his best sport. The Army veteran took up running in 1966 in his mid-30s, long before Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter triggered the running boom in America.

It only took one Boston Marathon, which he completed in 3 hours and 56 minutes, to become hooked.

"It's nice to say you can do something very few others can do," Frank once said of his passion for collecting 26.2-mile races the way more sedentary folks collect stamps.

Normally, a distance runner requires four to five months to recover from a marathon. Norm needed four to five days. In his prime, he averaged three marathons or ultra-marathons (50 miles) a month, about 30 a year. His lifetime mileage, about 90,000 counting training, could circle the earth 31/2 times.

At one point, he held the world record for marathons finished, 525. He had fallen to 18th place at the time of his death, but Frank had set the bar for the 17 men ahead of him, including Germany's Christian Hottas, 58, who as of last June was at 2,160.

A professional landscaper, Norm saw a lot of landscapes afoot. He completed 30 consecutive Boston and 30-plus Rochester marathons. In 1982, he ran across the United States as part of a 16-man relay.

If a race director knew Norm Frank was coming, he jumped for joy, knowing it meant added media coverage. Asked the obvious "Why?" he ran all these marathons, Frank supplied both philosophical and playful answers.

"I was never competitive against another runner that wasn't my goal," he once said. "I just kept doing it because I loved to compete against myself."

But, just as with Forrest Gump, they'd press Norm Frank, "But what's it really mean to run so much?''

"It means I have a lot of T-shirts," he'd say.

So many, in fact, he had a floor-to-ceiling quilt made from a sample of his global collection.

At 6-2, 175, Frank was a striking picture of good health as a younger man decked in a sweatsuit and sporting a full beard, mop of thick hair and shades. He was a fine, sub-four hour man for many years. As time rolled on, and his times rose past five hours and six hours, his running style was to keep his head down and feet shuffling.

Irondequoit's Don McNelly, 94, Frank's kindred spirit who ranks 36th in the world with 744 marathons, used to say that his friend's running style fit his temperament.

"He's tough, tenacious, bull-headed," McNelly said. "He just puts his head down and grinds them out."

By running so many marathons, Frank admitted that he sacrificed "quality for quantity." He never won a race but he won at enjoying life.

"It's not hard," Frank often said of his racing strategy. "Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot.''

That's a good strategy for life, too. Through prostate surgery, open-heart surgery, arthritic hips, asthma, Norm Frank kept on trucking, intrigued by what the human body and mind were capable of. The great irony? The man who could run 50 miles at a time always found the closest parking spot he could at the mall or Wegmans.

His goal was to run 1,000 marathons and land a TV commercial with the Energizer Bunny. And he would've, too, if not for a heart infection that left him with permanent vertigo six years ago.

Bragg was saddened that his friend who had run all these marathons couldn't stand without getting dizzy and needed assistance just to walk down the hallway when he visited. But while Frank lost his ability to run, he never lost his good nature, keen wit, sense of humor or love for the Yankees, Giants and Sinatra. Nor did he lose hope that his world would stop spinning someday.

"He could've gone into deep depression given the circumstances but he never did," Bragg said. "He kepFrank had two marriages, two children, two grandchildren he adored and too many friends to count.

"We'd sit in restaurants and he was approached all the time by people who'd go, 'Hey Norm, I ran marathon 409 with you,' or someone would remember 600-something,'' said Mark Frank, 55, Norm's son. "He'd get all kinds of sweet letters from people. They'd write, 'Norm, I don't know if you remember me, but you inspired me so much.' "

It remained that way at the assisted living center. Norm would climb on the treadmill, and, clutching the hand rails would think, "This is the day I run 26.2."

"He hated having to use a walker, he was so active," Mark Frank said. "He would do the treadmill, walk the hallways, and he loved sitting in the sun. Between his lawn business and his running, he was in the sun his whole life."

Check that. Norm Frank was the sunshine.

t an upbeat view and always thought he'd get better."