Athletics News

Carver Memories – May 19, 1983

Norm Bright (San Francisco) competes at 1936 U.S. Olympic Trials
Jan. 5, 2018


Carver Memories – May 19, 1983

Indefatigable Bright a long-distance legend

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- The night before running in the Sixth Norman Bright Road Run, the remarkable 73-year-old Norm Bright stayed up until 1 a.m. in the Nash Hall residence hall on the Western Washington University campus (site of the race), enjoying a rock dance sponsored by the students.

“It was great!” Bright exclaimed on the day of the race. “I’m still an adventurer.”

Bright, who is a member of the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame, went on to complete the 5.5-mile race in a time of 48:42. A running legend in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, Bright continues to jog an average of six miles a day, despite many injuries and near blindness.

He has not missed any of the Norm Bright Road Runs, which began in 1978.

“I went in for a checkup last week, and the doctor was amazed at my blood pressure. He says I’ve got another 200,000 miles in these legs. I think I’ll choose to believe him,” Bright said with a smile.

Bright first competed as an undergraduate student at Western (then Bellingham State Normal School) in 1928, setting conference records in a number of events. After graduating, Bright continued to run.

“In the thirties this was unheard of,” Bright explained. “Anyone out of college was (considered) over the hill,” he added.

In 1935 Bright set an American record in the two-mile run. He trained intensely for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany. During the heats of the U.S. Olympic Trials, he developed blisters on his feet. He was only able to place fifth in the final and did not make the team.

“After the trials, I couldn’t read the sports page for two years. I was devastated,” said Bright.

Bright quit competing in 1944, shortly after finishing 11th in that year’s Boston Marathon. He married and worked as a high school counselor. He also made frequent trips as an explorer to Antarctica, and climbed many major mountains in the world, including the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

Then, in 1969, a friend sent him a newspaper clipping about the Dipsea Race, a cross country event held in California’s Marin County. The clipping mentioned that the record for the race, that still stood, had been set in 1937 by Bright.

Bright decided that he would compete in the race again. He decided that he was not only going to run, but that he would win.

The Dipsea, first run in 1905, is the oldest trail race in America. It is a handicapped race, and the runners plot their own course through the rugged mountain terrain.

Bright’s training routine for his first race in 23 years was to run the 7.4- mile distance twice a day. He made 18 bus trips from his home in Seattle to San Francisco to travel up and down the mountain, sketching possible paths on a pad, figuring out the best route for the race.

On race day, Bright was ready. Even though he turned an ankle early in the competition, he was still able to win. Elated that he had accomplished his goal, Bright was back on the roads and tracks racing for good.

In 1972 he won a gold medal in the Masters Olympics steeplechase race in Cologne, West Germany. As a master, he established over 50 American and world records in his new career.

In 1978, Bright was hit by a bus in Seattle while jogging. He suffered a number of broken bones, and his vision has rapidly faded since then. But the indefatigable Bright continues to run.

It takes Bright 40 minutes each day to get to Seattle’s famous Green Lake jogging area. Once there, he calls out for assistance. Someone always comes along to hold onto the scarf that he holds out, to guide him around the course as he talks about his colorful racing past.

Bright also likes to talk about the rest home he lives in. “Forty three retired women schoolteachers and me – they spoil me to death.” He pauses, then adds, “But don’t try and change the story into a romance. You writers are always looking for the romantic angle,” he added with a wink.

After the road race on May 19, 1983, Bright stopped and talked to many well-wishers, and signed a few autographs. “Eat lots of fruit!” he exhorted them. “And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too old to run. They told me I was too old when I was 25,” he said.

After the runners thinned out, collecting their awards and heading for home, Bright planned to have a few beers with the WWU track coach, as is his yearly custom. Later that night over tea he would tell the ladies at the Ida Culver Retirement House in Seattle how the race went this year.

And it’s a safe bet, the next day that Norm Bright was out at Green Lake again, saying in a loud voice,

“Blind runner needs partner, Gotta be home in an hour, Gotta get home to take my shower, A little wobbly around the knees, Take my hand before I freeze!”

Until another runner came along to grab the scarf, not knowing he was about to run with a legend.

Norm Bright provides a running inspiration

Speakout by Chris Goldsmith, May 1988

Before the starting guns sounds for the 11th annual Norm Bright Road Run on May 15 (1988) near Western Washington University’s Carver Gym, a familiar figure will be seen going through his pre-race ritual.

In between bending and stretching, he’ll take time to say a few words to old friends. He’ll provide a little time-tested wisdom and encouragement to “first-timers” whether they be eight years old or approaching middle age.

And just as he has for the past 10 years, Norm Bright will give a little pep talk to those who have gathered to enter the annual “fun” run that bears his name.

Physically, Norm will show the effects of age, but it would be hard to discern his 79 years and the fact that he is legally blind, following a serious accident almost 11 years ago.

But in terms of character, high ideals, determination, loyalty and inspiration, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between Norman Bright today and the 1929 Western graduate who gave his all for the track and field team.

For Norm’s story is one of love and dedication, both to his alma mater and to the sport of running.

Following his graduation from what was then Washington State Normal School, Norm went on to become the American record holder in the two mile run.

In 1937, he won the San Francisco Cross Country Race – now known as the Bay to Breakers – and held the course record from 1937 to 1961 when the route was changed.

After his retirement from teaching, Norm really got into running and in the 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s was the holder of numerous world and American age group records from 800 meters to the marathon.

If you ask Norm about those accomplishments, he will probably wave them off as less than significant and talk about dedicating yourself to the task at hand.

It is tradition and values that are at the top of Norm Bright’s list today, just as they were when he competed for Western’s track program in the 1920s.

Two years ago, Norm was ready to turn down an invitation to lead the Bay to Breakers Run – now the largest mass participation run in the world – if the date conflicted with the ninth Norm Bright Run.

Now that’s the kind of loyalty that any college or university would hope for in its graduates.

The WWU Alumni Association has sponsored the Norm Bright Road Run since it began in 1978. We are proud to be able to associate ourselves with a graduate of Norm Bright’s character.

The race itself, raises funds for Western’s track and field program. But more than that, it honors an individual who exemplifies the meaning of determination, inspiration, high ideals, integrity and loyalty.

That Norm Bright will be on hand for this 11th annual race is icing on the cake. We’ll all be able to get another little glimpse of a running legend, and a classy one at that.

Norm Bright

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Norman "Norm" Bright (January 29, 1910 – August 29, 1996) was an American long distance runner, mountaineer, and teacher. Bright once held the American record in the two-mile run.

Bright was the son of a school principal and a teacher, Born in Mossyrock, Washington, he was one of eleven children. Bright's mother reportedly rubbed olive oil into his legs as an infant when she was told by a doctor that her son was not "moving and working his muscles enough.” Bright attended Western Washington University where he earned a teaching degree, Stanford University where he earned a bachelor's degree, and Miami University of Ohio where he earned a master's degree in counseling.

During World War II, Bright served in the United States Army. He was initially rejected due to a slow pulse, however, he went to another enlistment center after running three miles to raise his heart rate. In 1945, Bright married Franca Fiorentino whom he had met in New York. The couple had one daughter, and later divorced. Bright moved to Seattle in 1966 and worked for the Seattle School District as a psychologist.

Bright participated in the Olympic trials in 1936, but failed to qualify, finishing fifth in the 5,000 metres after twisting an ankle collapsing in the 100 degree temperatures that had a third of the field unable to finish the race. He was the winner of the 1937 Bay to Breakers, setting the course record as the first man to run under 40 minutes. That same year, he set a course record of 47:22 at the Dipsea Race, but finished second due to the handicapped nature of the event. Thirty-three years later in 1970, he won the event. The Norman Bright Award is given for "Extraordinary Effort in the Dipsea.”

In the mid-1960s, Bright was struck by a car and suffered a head injury which purportedly resulted in nerve damage and the loss of his eyesight. He needed a "guide," to keep him on course. Rules have been developed to ensure blind athletes do not gain an advantage when led in a race.

In 1975 he set the M65 World record in the 800 metres and 1500 metres while winning at the first Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) World Championships in Toronto, Canada. He was the first 65-year-old under 5 minutes in the 1500 metres. He also won the steeplechase at the same meet.

In 1976 he ran the Bay to Breakers with the guide (39 years after his victory in the event). Later that year he set the M65 American record in the 10,000 metres that still stands.

Bright was also a mountaineer reported to have climbed every major peak in the United States.

Bright is mentioned in Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling biography about Louis Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Bright appeared on the cover of Runners World in September 1974, running a steeplechase at the age of 64 and nearly blind.

Bright was a member of San Francisco's Olympic Club.

In 2000 he was elected into the USATF Masters Hall of Fame.

Bright died in Seattle due to complications from pneumonia and cancer.

Norm Bright, Blind Marathon Runner, Dies Of Cancer At 86

By Jennifer Bjorhus, Dee Norton, Seattle Times Staff Reporter

When Norman Bright was an infant, his mother massaged olive oil into his legs after a doctor warned her he wasn't moving and working his muscles enough.

It apparently worked.

Mr. Bright grew up to become an expert long-distance runner, racing well into old age even after losing his eyesight.

"When he got going, boy, he didn't stop," said his sister Georgie Kunkel of Seattle.

Mr. Bright, national record holder in masters (over 60) running, former Seattle School District psychologist and longtime fixture on the Green Lake running path, died Aug. 29 of complications from pneumonia and cancer. He was 86.

Although Mr. Bright failed to qualify in the Olympic trials in 1936, his sister said he went on to a rich running career. He ran in races ranging from the Boston Marathon to the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco where, in 1937, he set the course record.

Mr. Bright's prowess as a runner was so well-known that his alma mater, Western Washington University, named an annual 4-mile race the "Norm Bright Run." Mr. Bright even once ran the Pikes Peak Marathon with his arm in cast.

He gained considerable fame in the running world for his determination to continue to run even after going blind. He competed with the aid of running partners.

Mr. Bright began losing his sight due to nerve deterioration after suffering a head injury when he was struck by a car in the mid-1960s.

Holding onto running partner Frank Holman, Bright ran the Bay to Breakers race at age 76.

Holman said the first word that came to his mind when he thought of Mr. Bright was "inspiration."

"He overcame adversity and he wouldn't take no for an answer. He was always fighting something and that made him tougher," Holman said.

Organizers of the annual Dipsea Run in Mill Valley, Calif., a grueling run over Mount Tamalpais to the Pacific Ocean, created the "Norman Bright Trophy" for extraordinary effort in the Dipsea race.

Mr. Bright was born in Mossyrock, Lewis County, in 1910, one of 11 children. His father was a school principal and his mother a teacher.

After earning a teaching degree from WWU and a bachelor's degree from Stanford University, Mr. Bright got a master's degree in counseling from Miami University in Ohio.

Mr. Bright served in the Army during World War II. It was in New York that Mr. Bright met Franca Fiorentino, whom he married in 1945. The couple raised a daughter, Juliana.

Mr. Bright later divorced and, in 1966, moved to Seattle, where he began working for the Seattle School District. His last residence was the Queen Anne Manor retirement home. Mr. Bright also was a mountain climber who scaled nearly every major peak in the U.S. Kunkel called her brother a perfectionist who, beneath his ornery exterior, was child-like and sensitive.

Her brother suffered from depression, she said, "and the running gave him a lot of endorphins."

"He was one of those that just tenaciously went for whatever he wanted to do," she said.

In a 1977 interview, Bright said he encouraged seniors to run.

"It's so good for them," he said. "It feels so good to just open up and fly down the track."

Mr. Bright also is survived by his daughter, Juliana Furst of Shaker Heights, Ohio; grandsons Matthew and Benjamin; and sister Grace Eastman of Chehalis.

A memorial service for Mr. Bright will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 21, at the Queen Anne Baptist Church, 2011 1st Ave. N. Mr. Bright donated his body to the University of Washington.

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Dee Norton is included in this report.

Presented by Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015


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