Frank Farrar is coming back.
That should be no surprise. He’s been coming back his entire life.
He came back after a surgeon fused his teenage knee (amputation was the only other option) to fix a crippling football injury in 1946.
He came back after doctors used nearly lethal doses of chemotherapy to knock down the lymphatic cancer that they predicted would kill him in 1992.
“They said, ‘You have two months to live,” Farrar recalls. “I said: ‘What are you talking about? It doesn’t even hurt.’”
Given his track record, it should shock no one that the 81-year-old from Britton S.D. will be at the start line for the Hy-Vee Triathlon, just as he was at the 2008 event.
“I’ll probably come in last,” Farrar says with a laugh.
It’s the kind of laugh used by people who have always surpassed others’ expectations.
Frank Farrar is coming back to Iowa by air. In a homemade airplane. A homemade plane that he will fly himself.
He will check into a hotel, get a good night’s sleep, then get up before daybreak Sunday to take on all the other triathletes in his age group.
There’s that laugh again.
“I’m usually the only one in that group,” he says. “That’s why I win a lot.”
Farrar took up running in his mid 30s, nearly a decade before distance king Frank Shorter launched the U.S. jogging craze with his marathon win at the 1972 Summer Olympics. But unlike most people, for whom running became short-lived fashion, Farrar plugged along. A few miles a day. Every day. For decades.
“I just believed, and still do, that exercise will extend your life,” he says, matter-of-factly.
He credits the roadwork to beating the cancer, and for giving him the vitality to be a banker, lawyer, prosecutor, judge, husband, father, pilot and governor of the state he was born, raised and still lives in.
“I’ve worn a lot of hats,” he says. “I tell people the reason my resume is so long is that I could never keep a job.”
There’s that laugh again.
Running served Farrar so well, he decided to try triathlons. Then he graduated, at 65 years old, to Ironman endurance races. He’s started 34, finished 28, and enjoyed every one.
“I have the distinction of finishing last in the world in” the national championships in Hawaii in 2007, he says. He was 77 years old.
Farrar runs five times a week, works a little on most days, and cares for Patricia, his wife of 59 years, when he’s not looking for the next challenge.
“I’m having fun. I’m loving life. And I’ll keep going until I can’t go any longer,” he says.
He looks forward to the trip to West Des Moines, he says, because the Hy-Vee Triathlon “is a wonderful race; one of the best-run races I’ve ever seen.”
Farrar plans take his time, concentrate on improving his swim time, and hopes his new hip holds up well on the run.
“I’m better at biking; the running is toughest,” he says. “And a good runner will always beat a good swimmer. Running is the key to winning.”
Is that a warning to all the other 80-year-old challengers?
"Oh, I don't have talent. My greatest blessing is not to have talent,” Farrar says. “That way, nobody expects anything, and you don't feel so bad when you don't get there."
The he laughs that laugh again, and you know better.