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

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 Western Washington 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.