About a year ago, I was introduced to Frank Bott and his story.
The story was a touching one about Bott and his wife and three kids. The family returned to Iowa while he battled a brain tumor.
The story, which I wrote about in the Jan. 13, 2012, Register, included triumph as their oldest son Joe began chasing and eventually captured a state championship. It included hope about a family that received help from friends and teammates while Frank fought the tumor.
We knew how the story would end. On Tuesday, it reached its sad conclusion when Frank Bott passed away.
I’ve written stories about athletes who have overcome extreme circumstances to reach high achievements. Some have even overcome illnesses or barely missed death.
This story was different. Death was coming and it wasn’t turning back.
And Frank never backed down. He answered questions and talked his own death which he knew was coming. I’ll never forget sitting with him in the family’s house in Clive as he talked about his future and his destiny with death.
I remember showing up early to the family’s house and seeing Frank stand at a window looking outside for a long time.
He was a man who tried to soak up each second, moment and minute of his life. He had a lot of good things to take in.
Blow is the story that ran last season.
The Bott family has surfed the waves of California. They’ve ridden the subways of Washington D.C. They’ve baked in the sun of Arizona and Texas.
But to them, Iowa is special.
“It’s home,” said Joe Bott, 17.
Joe, his brother Sam and the rest of the family are reacquainting themselves with the state.
While the boys look forward to a promising future in the pool as members of the top-ranked West Des Moines Dowling Catholic swimming team, painful reminders linger about what brought them back.
A championship season could await the teenagers. Also waiting: the emotional and mental toll of facing the brain tumor lurking inside their father, Frank.
Frank Bott thought the pains he felt were nothing more than headaches As a third-grade teacher, the 49-year-old was well versed in those.
But there were other signs.
Their oldest daughter Becca, 19, now a student at Utah, watched her dad’s driving skills decline. Sometimes, he veered into other lanes. His vision was blurring.
“We didn’t really think there was anything (wrong),” Frank said.
Something was wrong. And the news would be devastating.
On the morning of April 7, 2011, Frank visited a doctor for an MRI test.
When the results came back, Frank watched as a group of doctors huddled. He couldn’t envision how much his life was about to change.
“I knew something was wrong because I could see like three or four people out there,” he said.
The diagnosis was a glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant brain tumor. According to the National Brain Tumor Society, it is the deadliest form of brain tumor.
Frank had to share the somber and sobering news with his family. He called Vicki, his wife, who was working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The conversation remains fresh in her mind.
“You don’t know what to think,” Vicki said. “How often do you have someone call you at work and say, ‘Hey, guess what, I have a brain tumor.'”
Vicki told Sam, their 14-year-old son. She called the women’s swim coach at Utah, where Becca was competing in college.
Joe, at swim practice, was pulled from the pool.
“I knew it could be bad,” Joe said. “When it hit me, it was like, now it is. I realized how serious of a situation it was.”
Vicki knew the family couldn’t remain in Burke, Va., a suburb of Washington. Since Vicki worked in D.C. and Frank worked in Virginia, the family needed a place that was easier to navigate.
They needed friends.
They needed support.
They needed Iowa.
The Botts had always planned on moving away from Virginia. They never thought it would be under these circumstances, though.
By June, Vicki had researched a house on the Internet, flown to Des Moines with Joe and purchased it. By July, the entire family was back.
Neither Frank nor Vicki is an Iowa native, but the state was no stranger. The family had lived in the state for six years before a move to Texas when Vicki landed a job. In 2009, they packed their bags for Washington, D.C. Now, the family was on the move again.
When Frank’s diagnosis arrived, the Botts decided they needed easier commutes. Frank, who traveled to Fairfax, Va., for radiation treatments, often needed Vicki to come back from D.C. to take him. On average, it took her 45 minutes to get home.
Doctors ordered Frank not to drive. Getting him back and forth from the doctor’s office for the treatment became difficult.
“Iowa is comfortable to come back to,” Frank said. “It did feel like that. Of all the places that I’ve lived, this is probably the easiest, most comfortable place.”
Sam, a freshman, and Joe, a senior, enrolled at Dowling Catholic. They became reacquainted with old friends.
And they connected with another familiar face — Dowling Catholic boys’ swimming coach Mark Crouch.
News that the Botts were returning to Des Moines was music to the ears of Crouch. He had gotten to know the family from his time as a coach at Des Moines Golf & Country Club, where they swam during summers.
When he heard the reason for the return, though, it was difficult to grasp.
“Between myself and God, I probably said to myself, ‘Why does it happen to the good guys?'” Crouch said. “He’s just a tremendous guy.”
The Botts reconnected with Crouch and the Dowling Catholic community.
Sam, who ran cross country, considered staying away from the pool. Vicki and Frank convinced him, however, to share the season with his brother.
The Maroons began the week as the state’s top-ranked team in the Iowa High School Swim Coaches Association power rankings, with a Bott helping lead the way. Joe is ranked in the state’s top 10 in four individual events.
During an invitational in Minnesota last weekend, Joe raced to a time of 4 minutes, 42.75 seconds in the 500-meter freestyle — faster than any mark in the state this season.
The success is no surprise: Becca was part of West Des Moines Valley’s state championship team in 2006 and added another team championship in Virginia.
Crouch, who calls Joe a vital part of his team’s success, thinks his Maroons are in a perfect position for a title run this season.
So does Joe.
“Everything is in the right order,” Joe said. “The team is fast.”
Joe plans to swim in college. He’s narrowed his choices to Iowa, Connecticut and Pittsburgh.The possibility of living in Iowa City is a factor for Joe, who wants to be able to come home when needed.
While the swimming star begins to look to the future, the family takes a more focused view of life.
“I always say, ‘Day by day,'” Vicki said. “You take it day by day. You’re thankful for what you have today, and tomorrow is what tomorrow is, and you figure it out.”
The todays look pretty good. Frank makes each of the Maroons’ meets.
Friends have offered and helped with rides. Frank finished radiation, but he still goes through a chemotherapy cycle every 28 days.
One of his most recent trips to the doctor showed that the tumor has decreased in size.
Optimism shares time with realism in the cancer fight, however.
“No one said it’s never going to come back,” Frank said. “It’s (more like) ‘Where’s it’s going to come back?’ It’s when it’s going to come back and what speed. We just do what they say and stay positive.”
Swimming, once a sport solely for the kids, has turned into therapy for the whole family.
Since Frank can’t work, most of his days are spent at home. Like Joe, though, Frank has gotten caught up in the team’s success.
“It’s helped a lot,” Joe said. “It’s given me more things to focus on.”
When you look at Frank, the outside signs of what’s going on inside are almost invisible. A small scar remains on his shaven head from a surgery.
The disease doesn’t dominate his outward life, either. Frank is soaking up the season and enjoying watching two of his kids swim at the same time.
“I’m never going to get a chance to see that again,” he said.
Doctors have optimistically estimated he’ll live anywhere from 18 months to five years.
Frank prepares for the worst while enjoying the family’s best.
“I feel like I’ve got to get stuff done,” he said.