By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
A number of people had suggested Frank Bright as one of my “lunch” features. One person told me he was in his late 70s and still running marathons. Another friend said she thought Frank had qualified to run in the Boston Marathon when he was 80.
Of course, this sounded like a very interesting story. I had no idea just how fascinating Frank Bright’s story would be.
We met at Jacquelyn’s Café and enjoyed a wonderful lunch – during which just about everyone who came in stopped by our table to say “hi” to my guest. I could have sat there all afternoon listening to this gentle soul tell me the story of his life.
When he was in high school at Fair Park back in the 1950s, Frank Bright wasn’t a big guy – he didn’t play football, baseball, or basketball. But he was a manager for all three teams, so he was around for all the games and practices.
Part of practice was running, so Bright would join the athletes when they would go long-distance running.
Funny thing happened.
The guys would come back after running a mile, sweating and gasping for breath. All except for Bright, who looked like he could go back out and run a marathon.
It wasn’t long until the track coach took notice and wanted Bright to run cross country for Fair Park.
“The baseball coach didn’t want me to,” says Bright. “He said, ‘You can’t have him. He keeps all the stats.’ They talked about it and the baseball coach said, ‘If he wins, he can do it.’”
You can guess how this story turned out — he won the state championship his senior year.
And so began Frank Bright’s career as a long-distance runner.
He had already decided to go to Louisiana Tech and study journalism. After all, he had been the sports editor at the Fair Park newspaper. When his sudden track success earned Bright a scholarship to Tech, he decided to “take the hardest stuff they offered.”
So, instead of journalism, he majored in chemical engineering and went on to get his master’s at LSU – where he served as a graduate assistant coach for the Tigers’ cross country team.
After working as a chemical engineer for Dow Chemical in Plaquemine for three-and-a-half years, Bright quit that career, went to law school, and moved back to Shreveport to start his law practice.
With all of the changes going on in Bright’s life, one of the constants was running. The other was Suzanne, his wife of now 52 years.
“I took a year off from running while I set up my practice,” says Bright. “I wasn’t running, but I would be worn out every day.”
That’s the only break he would take from running.
He has run in 19 Boston Marathons, beginning with his first in 1978. He had already qualified for the 2023 event and has now qualified for the 2024 Boston Marathon following his performance in the Twin Cities Marathon, which took place in the Minneapolis-St.Paul (Minn.) area on Oct. 2.
One of his most memorable Boston Marathon experiences took place the year there wasn’t even a race. In 2020, the famous race was postponed from April until September due to COVID-19 and then cancelled – but not in Shreveport.
Shreveport’s Virtual Boston Marathon began at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12 with the 26.2-mile race beginning at the Sportspectrum parking lot.
“It was incredible,” says Bright, who was joined by the six other Shreveporters who qualified. “Sportspectrum did a great job. We were treated like royalty.”
Bright is quick to praise Matt Brown and the impact Sportspectrum has made to running over the years.
“We’re very fortunate,” says Bright. “In lots of cities, there would be ‘turf battles’ between running clubs. But here, all the running groups — Sportspectrum, Red River Roadrunners, the Y group — support each other.”
Obviously, the 79-year-old Bright has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. He did retire from his law practice in 2007, but that just means there’s more time to run – which he does at least five to six days a week, including his Monday, Wednesday, and Friday jaunts with his regular running group from the YMCA.
That’s when, of course, he is in Shreveport. Frank and Suzanne spend their summers in Canada and every March in Scottsdale, Ariz., for Major League Baseball Spring Training. When the Shreveport Captains left our town, Bright changed his allegiance from the San Francisco Giants.
“That’s when I read the book Moneyball and became an Oakland A’s fan,” he says.
What’s next for Bright is, of course, the Boston Marathon this April, when he will move up to a new age group. “How many people can say they can’t wait until they turn 80?” asks Bright.
While he is looking forward to his next marathon, there is another important race he is anticipating just as much. This weekend – for the first time — he will get to see his 11-year-old granddaughter Harper run in a cross-country meet.
Who knows, they may be running in marathons together soon.
The future looks Bright.
Contact Harriet at email@example.com