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Frank O'Mara's battle

In Sunday's column on the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I'll review a new book by one of my favorite people in Arkansas, Little Rock's Frank O'Mara.

I became convinced that God has a sense of humor when my oldest son was a distance runner. You see, I'm a former offensive lineman. About the only thing I've ever run toward is the front of a buffet line.

My son's decision all those years ago was a smart one. In middle school at Holy Souls in Little Rock and in high school at Little Rock Catholic, he had the good fortune of being coached by volunteers such as Frank O'Mara and Mark Andersen, world-class athletes who had run for the legendary John McDonnell at the University of Arkansas.

These men were not only coaches for their athletes but were also counselors and father figures.

I was delighted when Frank sent me an advance copy of his book, "Bend Don't Break: A Memoir of Endurance," which is being released this month by the O'Brien Press in Dublin, Ireland.

Though he has lived in Arkansas since the fall of 1978, Frank remains a hero in his native Ireland. He ran three times for Ireland in the Olympics, competing in 1984 at Los Angeles, 1988 at Seoul and 1992 at Barcelona.

He was a commentator for Irish television during subsequent Olympics.

I planned to read a chapter of the book each night while taking time off for the Christmas holidays. I became so engrossed in it, however, that I finished the book in two days.

Though it outlines his childhood in Ireland and his track career, "Bend Don't Break" is primarily about Frank's current battle with Parkinson's disease.

Frank is 63 now. He was diagnosed with the disease at age 48.

In his dedication, Frank writes: "I wish I had never met a single neurologist, but 14 years into this saga, I have the contact details for many. This book is dedicated to all those from whom I have received treatment or counsel, but especially to Dr. Lee Archer and Dr. Rohit Dhall at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, and Dr. Kendall Lee at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Without your care, many of us would not have the tools to cope."

Frank's professional track career took him to 56 countries, but he continued to make his home in Arkansas.

Reading about Frank's battle with Parkinson's can be harrowing, but in the end it's inspiring. Frank already was among my heroes for the way he treated my son. After reading this book, he's even more of one.

"After years of fighting an endless war against the advancing foe, I am now much more guarded in my optimism," he writes. "Unbridled positivity prevented me from accepting my fate and getting on with it. Parkinson's is my mortal enemy. It will always be, but my focus should be on learning to live with the condition rather than trying to outwit it. If I could just come to terms with my incapacities, I could suck the remaining sap from my tree of life.

"I have to stop thinking that I'll enjoy life again when I get over this ailment. I have changed irreversibly, but that doesn't mean I have been broken. ... I don't know what the future holds for me, but I am focused on what matters: living in the now, loving my family and friends. I will plan for the future, but I will never dwell on the future. I will never play a part I haven't been assigned. I will run the race one lap at a time, and I will not worry about the result. I will bend, but I will not break."

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1 Comment

Vance Tucker
Vance Tucker
Mar 28

I worked with Frank at Alltel Corp. He was always a winner. I will buy this book! Excellent, Rex, and thank you!

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