On December 28, 2019, Frank Bartocci became the fifth American to ever complete 1000 marathons. With harrowing stories of climbing Pike’s Peak, to co-founding the “Savage Seven” (seven marathons in seven days) with retired Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Savage, Frank has lived quite a life. I was honored to sit with Frank and gather a brief glimpse into the wisdom he has gained from such a unique undertaking. His stories are shared via an oral history, aimed at building resilience and self-discipline amongst our Protectors, the 42D Military Police Brigade.
“One day it snowed, and there was like six inches of snow on the ground and it was still snowing. There were only 44 doing the solo. All 61 miles… point to point, hills and rocks… I remember at mile 20, my legs felt like rubber. And I’m only at 20, and I’ve got another forty-something to go… Finally I make the 50 mile and there’s a truck parked and it’s the race director. [He says] ‘Frank you look like crap… why don’t you call it a day? Here’s my truck, it’s nice and warm.’ I remember looking at him like he’s crazy. ‘Look, you don’t have to recognize my finish… but I’m not stopping this and I’m not quitting this if it kills me. If I have to crawl from here, if I finish tonight at midnight, if I finish tomorrow morning, I don’t care. I am finishing this race.’”… “The times I came in last were my greatest accomplishments, because I was hurting so bad and I wouldn’t quit. So, last, sometimes, is okay.”
As a clinical psychologist I often help my patients to recognize what they can and cannot control. For the elements of one’s life that can be controlled: take steps to move toward meaningful change. And for those elements that cannot be controlled: take steps to take care of yourself. Find an outlet, a release, to better yourself and buffer against the stress.
Frank’s son (my cousin) Matthew was born with Cystic Fibrosis, which he eventually passed away from at age 36 in 2011. Back in 1983, when Frank began his journey with a single marathon, this was in large part a healthy way to cope with stress from work and Matthew’s illness. Helplessness and powerlessness were the drivers that pushed Frank to find this initial purpose. Years later, after Matthew’s death, Frank carries his ashes during every race.
“Realize that in your journey through life there is always some injustice… Do not let that deter you… Be a beacon of light to those around you… And don’t seek recognition, but don’t shy from it. Just try to be honest in everything you do, and give credit to those who help you along the way.” –Frank Bartocci
Consistently living life with gratitude and appreciation is a challenge for most people. To truly recognize the gift of another day, and another opportunity to push forward in life, is an eye opening experience. To seek adversity in life with open arms is to take life for all its ups and downs, as a beautiful and yet at times painful whole. And even in the best or the worst of moments, worth it.
Running a single marathon, let alone over 1,000, takes a great deal of physical strength. Yet mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions are essential, and when the going gets tough they are the elements that enable accomplishments.
“Whatever happens, there seems to be others there to help us out,” Frank told me. “It is as if there is greatness everywhere we look: the man or woman who has lost 100 pounds and is attempting to do a half marathon, the heart attack patient rehabilitating, the cancer survivor, the military greats with missing limbs, or those honoring the fallen — greatness everywhere.”
Frank’s journey, and the history that he has made, all started with one single race. He did not envision the 1,000 marathon goal at that time, and even as he neared it, he never took the journey or destination for granted.
I recognize that his stories are deeply personal for me, for many reasons. Yet I am hopeful that it’s not just me. I hope our Soldiers and all who hear Frank’s stories see some of the beauty in adversity.
“To me, love of life and celebration of life and living is one of the rewards of this,” Frank said. “Of challenging your boundaries, and realizing you can go beyond what you ever thought you could do, if you let yourself. If you give yourself that chance, and you don’t put those self-imposed road blocks. You can honor yourself, and make the most of living. You can celebrate life.”