Abandoned at birth, Navy's Frame refuses to desert cross country goals


October 16, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

ANNAPOLIS -- He competes in a sport, long-distance running, that is recognized for its loneliness, and there is irony in that choice. For no one was ever more alone in this world than Bruce Frame.

He was abandoned at birth and found outside a hospital, his umbilical cord still in place. For all anyone knows, his birthday might be the Fourth of July and, indeed, he fits the All-American image as a sophomore at the Naval Academy who was raised deep in the heart of Texas.

But Bruce Frame knows his roots and counts his blessings.

He was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a nation of 48 million in east Africa. It's a country of 70 languages and many cultures, and Frame isn't sure of his heritage because of his abandonment at birth.

His adoptive father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force who entered the seminary upon his retirement. His faith was strong, and so is his son's.

"It amazes me why I'm here," said Frame, one of Navy's top cross country runners. "It amazes me that I'm in America, that I'm even alive. I don't take my situation for granted. God must have something planned for me. This can't be all for naught."

The events of 20 years ago cause Frame to shake his head.

In July 1971, a newborn was left outside a hospital in Addis Ababa. The boy was found by the cook of Cory and Ginny Atwood. Cory was an instructor at the University of Haile Selassie. The Atwood household already included two young children, one 2 weeks old.

"We tried to care for the baby for a few days, but it wasn't feasible," Ginny Atwood said from Idaho. "We went to an orphanage for help, and they told us to forget it. The police asked if it was Funtaye's [the cook] baby. Some people asked her why she just didn't leave it where she found it.

"We took the baby to church and asked our friends if there were any ideas. Fortunately, the Frames offered to help out for a few days. They fell for him."

Michael Frame was part of the U.S. Military and Advisory Assistance Group assigned to Ethiopia in the early 1970s. He and his wife, Molly, had two daughters, ages 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 at the time, but they made room for the child. They also had connections in the Ethiopian government.

"The first time I saw Bruce, he was in a little-bitty cardboard box," Molly Frame said from Fort Worth. "He was probably less than a week old, and didn't weigh any more than 6 pounds. I immediately knew he was mine.

"Since no one had legal custody, the adoption was very difficult. It also would have been much easier if we hadn't planned to return to the U.S. We paid a sum to a lawyer, and he took the money and disappeared. A Major Admase in the Ethiopian Parliament helped. He saw us caring for Bruce and said, 'I've heard Americans hated blacks, but I have to believe my eyes.' "

The process was finalized in 1972, and Bruce Cory Admase Frame was a bona fide military brat. When Bruce was 2, the family moved to Fort Worth. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1977, before his father began a tour in Korea. The Frames then spent two years in Northern California before settling down in Fort Worth.

Shortly after retiring from the Air Force, Michael Frame was critically injured in a 1981 auto accident and was comatose until his death in 1983. His father was Bruce's first soccer coach. Sisters Ellen and Arlyn indirectly pushed him into running.

Sibling rivalry also caused some double-takes toward a black child in an otherwise white family.

"Bruce didn't understand why anyone questioned it," Molly Frame said. "Like any normal kid, he used to follow his sisters everywhere, and once when they were in elementary school, both had him down on the playground and were on top of him. An adult told them, 'Leave that boy alone,' but they said, 'It's OK, he's our brother.'

"Bruce learned. We're a very close family, but I attribute his running ability to his sisters."

Frame began racing in the sixth grade and was a good, but hardly great, prospect in Fort Worth's Southwest High School. He was fourth in the 1989 state cross country meet for 5A schools, and ran 3,200 meters in a credible 9 minutes, 45 seconds in the spring of 1990. He was interested in several Southwest Conference schools, "but I really wasn't in full scholarship range."

He instead dove into the application process to the Naval Academy and in 1990 received one of the presidential appointments given annually to children of career officers. He is majoring in political science.

The decor in Frame's room includes an Ethiopian flag and a portrait of Haile Selassie, the emperor who was overthrown by the military in 1974. Frame's interest in Ethiopia heightened when he learned it had been home to some long-distance running legends.

Abebe Bikila was the first person ever to win the Olympic marathon twice, running barefoot in 1960. In 1968, Mamo Wolde made it three Olympic marathons in a row for Ethiopia. The ancient Miruts Yifter won the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 meters in 1980. In 1988, Belaine Densimo ran the fastest marathon ever.

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