I have reviewed an earlier work by Mr. Brant, (see: The Boy Who Runs, The Odyssey of Julius Achon) and corresponded with him about that book. Five years prior to the publication of Frank's autobiography, Mr. Brant had also written an article about Frank for Runner's World. Though I'm not a regular reader of that magazine, by chance I had seen the issue and photocopied the article which discussed Frank's childhood experiences of living in a family with a very abusive father, not only abusive, but one who on the surface was above reproach in his community. I have worked in the field of child protection as a mediator in Ohio and now in British Columbia for twenty years and have seen the worst of cases. I can safely say that the Shorter family was near the top in levels of violence perpetrated toward children, and by today's standards, had the facts been known, the Shorter children would have been taken from Dr. Shorter's custody, and by today's legal standards Dr. Shorter would have served some serious jail time for his parenting aggressions. However it must be remembered that it's only been since the 1970's in our country that laws have been on the books protecting children from abuse by their parents. Had the Shorter children spoken to authorities in the 1950s and 1960s when the abuse was going on, it is not likely that anyone would have believed them, and nothing would have changed for them. While Frank Shorter survived and thrived after a childhood of abuse, it must be remembered that many, many of these children do not do well and often repeat the sins of the parents.
It took Frank many years into adulthood to be able to publicly reveal what went on behind the walls of his family home. The Runner's World article in 2011 revealed that story, and the book tells it in greater depth. For years I saved that article as a reminder to myself each day what I was seeing in families whose secrets had been discovered and brought to the attention of social workers, teachers, police, and eventually the legal system. I even handed off copies of that article to new social workers coming into the field. So it is not without a lot of anger that I read this book.
The book describes how Frank was able to function outside the home and move through school life and focus on becoming a great runner whose athletic history we all know. It took incredible will and an innate sense of survival to accomplish what he accomplished. He certainly personifies the old proverb of 'If it doesn't kill me, it will make me stronger'. My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life is not just about child abuse but that theme winds through descriptions of how Frank's running career and professional life grew and evolved. The book covers Frank's philosophy of running, and what he did after his skills and abilities began to fade. He tracks the history of his relationship with Steve Prefontaine, Jack Bacheler, John Parker, Kenny Moore and others of that period. He also talks about his time in Gainsville with the Florida Track Club, the fight for recognition from the AAU for compensation to runners like any other profession, and the rise of and his role in the formation of the US Anti Doping Agency. His workouts with Pre are an historic record of how elite runners trained in those days. He was consistent as few can ever be with his workouts, 11:00 each morning, and 3:30 each afternoon, and his ability to self coach is something truly unique in modern distance running. All this can be taken away by the end of the book. The story could seem braggadocio for everything he has accomplished in his life, but Frank also comes off as a humble person who has had to overcome roadblocks that many of us will hopefully never see.
|At the 25 KM point in Munich|
This book will serve the baby boomer generation of runners, especially those of us who were running in the 1960s and 70s, and it can be a primer for the new generations of runners showing them what they can and must do if they hope to achieve greatness or at least tap the strengths that they were given at birth.
Without boring the reader by citing his training diaries, Brant and Shorter convey the types of workouts that were done in those days. Shorter credits his coaches in high school and at Yale for getting him going and then cutting the reins and letting him figure things out for himself. Sam Green and Warren Hall at Mt. Hermon prep school and Bob Giegengack at Yale who clearly saw that Frank had the intelligence to be his own coach.
As a supplement to this excellent book I would recommend that folks also read Bill Rodgers' autobiography Marathon Man, previously reviewed in this blog. See Marathon Man clik here.
Both men's careers overlapped. They were New Englanders, though from very different backgrounds. Frank chose to travel to Florida and Oregon to train, whereas Bill pretty much stayed at home. They were both surrounded at times by great runners to learn from, Bill with Amby Burfoot and Jeff Galloway, and Frank with Prefontaine, Bacheler, and Parker. Success can derive along many paths which both men's histories seem to indicate.
In communicating with Mr. Brant, he admitted to a couple of errors of fact in the book, which I will not mention to you. They are purely historical error and do not take anything away from the importance of this book.