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Dave Frank Achieves Success, Finds Contentment

The pathway of life's journey can prove to be complicated and unpredictable. It can begin by heading toward a planned destination and then suddenly veer off in a new direction. It can be smooth and without impediments. And then, without warning, it can become rocky and difficult to traverse. Often, the traveler can't fully appreciate the path he has taken until he stops, looks back, sees where he has been, and reflects upon where he is now.

When Dave Frank surveys the course he has followed, he likes the pathway he has chosen and where it has taken him. The native Oregonian has come full circle and, as the full-immersed head coach of track and cross country at Portland's Central Catholic High School, he has a compelling story that accompanies his travels.

Growing up in Gladstone, Oregon -- just south of Portland -- Frank was a successful runner at Gladstone High School where, under the tutelage of Wes Cook, he was a 5-time state champion in cross country and track. His future looked bright, indeed.

After being courted by several prominent Div I track powers, Frank selected Stanford and enrolled in the fall of 1980. Once there, he was a member of the usual group of particularly talented and dedicated distance runners that Stanford just always seems to have every year. As is not infrequently the case with successful high school athletes seeking to establish themselves in college, the transition from multiple-time high school state champion to contributing collegiate athlete was not an easy one for Frank. "I came in, as most guys do, with pretty high expectations," confides Frank. Recalling his innocence as a college freshman, he smiles, "You know, I'm thinking I'm a guy that is going to make the Olympic team, I'm going to go to the NCAA's my freshman year. And then reality sets in and you realize: 'This is hard.' And there's a whole bunch of guys on your team who are every bit as good as you. And some are way better than you."

As his college career unfolded, Frank found himself to be a solid -- but rarely spectacular -- collegiate distance runner. "I was close to being a varsity guy my freshman year in cross country. I trained with the top runners, but I was not a top 7 guy." In track, Frank gravitated toward the 3000 meter steeplechase. "I ran the steeple a lot," he notes. His frosh best of 9:15 was promising, but hardly remarkable. Again harkening back to his freshman naïveté, Frank laughs, "At the time, I was shocked I wasn't an 8:45 guy my freshman year." As a sophomore, Frank lowered his steeple PR to 8:58. But by the fall of his junior year, that impressive break-through performance still hadn't arrived. "I was a varsity guy, but just barely," says Frank. "I made the team, but I wasn't helping out very much."

But then Stanford initiated a coaching change that provided to be a spark for Frank. As his junior year began, Stanford's head track & field coach Brooks Johnson took on a more direct role in coaching the men. "If you know Brooks, he is not always warm and fuzzy," admits Frank. "But when he took over coaching the men, he won me over pretty quickly." And armed with Frank's newly-conferred trust, Johnson -- as good coaches do -- found a subtle, yet effective way to get through to his athlete. "When we went to camp in northern California just prior to my senior year, after we finished one of our workouts, Brooks and I were walking back to the van, and Brooks asked me, 'Who do you think will make the '84 Olympic team in the steeple this coming summer?' I said, 'Henry Marsh is going to make it; Brian Diemer should make it.' Then as I paused, Brooks pressed me: 'Who else?" I said 'You know how it goes, Brooks. Usually the third guy in a distance event is someone that nobody ever heard of the year before.' Brooks replied, 'Yeah, that happens all the time." And then he paused, turned and looked at me and said, 'You know, nobody's ever heard of you.'"

The comment struck a responsive chord with the young athlete. "He said that and I thought 'man, he thinks I'm a pretty good runner,'" Frank explains. "I thought to myself 'No matter what I thought of him before or what our relationship was before, he's telling me right now that I could be pretty good.'"

Newly inspired, Frank redoubled his efforts. And his marks, in fact, improved. "I got better. I had some crappy days and some great days. But, I just couldn't quite put it together," laments Frank. The steeplechaser spent his senior year chasing steeple qualifying marks -- 8:42 was the NCAA qualifying time; 8:40.8 for the Olympic Trials. Disconsolate after an 8:53 fifth-place finish at the PAC-10 championship meet, Frank pressed Johnson to send him to the Oregon State Last Chance Meet. Finally, Johnson relented. It proved to be the right decision. In Corvallis, the Stanford steepler ran a patient race, took the lead on the final lap, and pressed on for the win. Frank's break-through time of 8:38 set a new Stanford school record and gave Frank the qualifying marks he needed. The victory proved to be Frank's collegiate highlight. An understandable emotional let-down ensued, and in his Olympic Trials race -- just two days after his college graduation -- Franks turned in a sub-par performance. "I ran poorly, unintelligently, was not very tough, and was tired," he admits. "I thought, 'Hey, I made the Trials, I'm only 22 years old. I can make it again in 4 years. What's going to stop me? I'll be a lot better in 4 years." And with a bit of regretful reflection, he adds, "I didn't consider that I might not ever be as fast as I was right then."

Dave_Frank_photo.JPGDave Frank

Franks' post-collegiate running career was a patchwork of varied performances -- some hopeful, others downright disappointing. He worked feverishly -- without great success -- to shoehorn in top flight training while attempting to tackle graduate studies and develop a viable career pathway. "When I was at Stanford, there weren't guys that were planning to go into running as their career, not even for a couple of years. They would go to grad school, get a job." Franks' competitive efforts were bipolar in nature. He ran another OT steeplechase qualifier in 1988 -- but once again laid an egg at the Trials. Four years later, an encouraging 2:18 qualifying time put him in the '92 Olympic Marathon Trials -- where he dropped out at halfway.

But the path had already begun to take a turn. By then, Frank had already landed a Bay Area teaching job at St Francis High School. The math department position also included cross country and track coaching responsibilities. By the end of his 10-year stint in Mountain View, Frank had not only developed an effective classroom style, he had also led his harrier squad to a state title.

His journey became smoother and more clear in 2000 when he was able to seize an opportunity that would ultimately change his life's course like no other. Moving back to Portland with his wife Karen and his little son Jackson, Frank began earnest conversations with the AD of Portland's Central Catholic High School about a combination math and coaching position. On the eve of receiving the offer, Frank had to deal with an unexpected development. An 11th hour opportunity had resulted in the school's hiring of a new cross country coach: Alberto Salazar. Caught off-guard, Frank unleashed a passionate response: "I told the AD 'Well, I may not be coaching cross country, but I am going to every practice and every meet and when we have a meet you'll have to get me a sub,'" explains Frank. "I told him 'I love cross country. I'm coaching cross country. I'll do it for free. I'm going to be out there no matter who's out there.'"

It all worked out. After a beginning laced with apprehension, Salazar and his new assistant coach quickly developed an effective coaching collaboration. "There was no question that Alberto was in charge, the head guy. But we worked together. One of the great things about Alberto is that we would discuss coaching and different approaches. Alberto was really good about that." With their cooperative partnership now formed, they embarked together on the task of rejuvenating the Ram's lackluster program.

That task was destined to become a lot easier right away when cross country team members brought to Franks' attention a skinny little soccer player named Galen Rupp who toiled in Franks' 9th grade math class. "We heard from kids that he was really fast. But we hear that stuff all the time," notes Frank. "But it turned out I knew his mother and we were able to get him to come to a practice." Smiles Frank, "He was by far the best guy on the team from the first minute he ran for us."

Frank recalls Rupp's first high school cross country race -- a freshman 3000. "We told him he couldn't take the lead until after the mile. After 800, he asked if he could take the lead. We told him no. We let him go after a mile and he won by 45 seconds."

From there on, as the coaching duo carefully developed their young emerging star, Rupp continued to post a steady string of top flight performances. The coaches knew they had a young, eager runner with enormous talent. But how good could he really be? Frank recalls a moment of true awakening; "By the time of Galen's sophomore year in track, Alberto had clearly seen that Galen was much better than I ever could have imagined. In the summer after Galen's sophomore year, we took Galen down to Stanford for the junior nationals to run the 5000. He finished third in 14:34.05. After the race, we were walking out and Alberto says, 'I think he's going break the national record.' 'What national record?' I asked. 'The 5K,' he responded. I replied, 'Alberto, you know it's about 13:44.' With a certain shortness, Alberto crisply responded, 'I know what it is.'" Salazar's foresight proved to be correct. Before entering college, Rupp would run the 5000 in 13:37.91 -- setting a new national record and bettering Gerry Lindgren's ancient 1964 mark of 13:44.

Frank credits Salazar for encouraging him to elevate expectations, to think big. "With Galen, I could tell he was going to be good -- a multi-time state champ; a Div I runner; maybe an All-American. That was my view of the world. And Alberto's view was, 'No no, he has the chance to be an Olympic medalist some day,'" exclaims Frank. "And that helped me a great deal as a coach. When Alberto left, I started looking at things a lot differently. Now, I'm not just being satisfied with having kids make all-state. I think having a bigger picture view has helped me a lot."

After Rupp graduated and moved on to the University of Oregon, Salazar stayed at Central Catholic for one more fall season before leaving to launch the Oregon Project and to intensify his coaching focus with his maturing protégé. As expected, Salazar's departure from Central Catholic led to the installation of Dave Frank as the new head coach. But what would become of the impressive and successful program at Central Catholic? Not to worry. During the 7 cross country seasons since Salazar moved on, Central Catholic, under Frank's skillful guidance, has won the state title 4 times -- and has finished as the runner-up the other three years. While he has clearly developed his own coaching style, Frank is quick to acknowledge the guidance and skills he learned along the way from mentors like Cook, Johnson, and Salazar. "I have been able to take from all the people I've worked with."

Dave_Frank-2_photo.JPGDave Frank (red hat), with teammates from Black Flag,
Hood To Coast three-time reigning Masters champions

Head coach Frank has cultivated a culture of winning that is embraced by his athletes. "I think it [the power of the Central Catholic running heritage] happens now," observes Frank. "When kids visit the school I tell them if they don't like anything but the running, don't come here." And, with obvious pride, he adds, "But I tell kids interested in Central Catholic to come visit the school and see if you like it. See if you like the teachers and everything we have going on."

After a few years of twists and turns, the path Frank walks today is much to his liking. "I love it here. I feel like I have been really lucky with a lot of different things -- a lot of the places I've ended up and how I got there," explains the coach with a nod to his good fortune. "I don't mean that I haven't worked hard. But to have shown up the same time that Alberto showed up which also was the same time that Galen showed up -- I don't know how else to describe it."

It would be only natural to ask Dave Frank what lies ahead. But a spoken answer seems almost unnecessary. After years of seeking -- and ultimately finding -- the pathway that fits him, the Head Coach seems to exude a quiet aura that says he knows he has captured and is holding on to a genuine sense of contentment. "I like what I'm doing," he smiles. "I like math. I love coaching. And I really enjoy teaching. I am really happy being in Portland. And I have a very supportive community and school. It's pretty cool."

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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