Ex-Zag Frahm finds new challenge on two wheels

Now: Former GU star Richie Frahm has found a new athletic challenge – competitive cycling. He’ll compete in a Masters Nationals next month. (Dan Pelle)

The life cycle of an athlete is never long enough.

“I think it’s a terrible analogy, but they say it’s like a death,” former Gonzaga basketball star Richie Frahm said.

In 2010, while “trying to figure out where basketball was going to fit in my life,” Frahm worked as an assistant coach for a developmental team in Reno, Nev.

“I had a really tough time, because I still wanted to play, so it was hard to watch from the sidelines,” Frahm said.

So after an 11-year pro career, he finally stared death in the face. And ran.

Back in uniform, Frahm played the 2010-11 season in Japan for a team called the Aisin Seahorses, but returned to Reno and finally back to Spokane and a career in sales.

The life cycle was over.

It turns out that Frahm just needed another cycle.

A year ago, he found it in a Spokane bike shop, where Frahm was looking to rehab an old road bike given to him by his brother.

Customers came and went, including Andrei Mylroie, founder of the River City Red cycling team.

“I was never a basketball fan, so I didn’t know his background,” Mylroie said. “He was this tall guy who looked reasonably fit.”

Mylroie invited him for a quick 60-mile ride. After watching a few races, Frahm finally worked up the courage to go wheel to wheel.

In his first race, Frahm surged to the front, then sagged to the back of the pack.

“I couldn’t believe how close they come to each other, and I finished dead last,” he said.

That was hard to swallow for an athlete who helped Gonzaga to its deepest run ever in the NCAA tournament and later spent five seasons in the NBA.

“I was mad,” Frahm said. “I had to figure out why these guys were beating me.”

The competitive flame was rekindled, but at first Frahm felt only the burn. For one thing, Frahm’s only drafting experience was nine years ago, when he was an expansion draft pick by the Charlotte Bobcats.

Last winter, Frahm “absorbed as much as I could,” then registered with USA Cycling as a Category 5 cyclist. In other words, a beginner. That didn’t last long, as Frahm won a couple of races and quickly moved up to Category 4.

“I think as a professional basketball player you have to have that arrogance to win,” Frahm said. “But in cycling, I just had that competitive desire to do the best I could.”

Mylroie and others were impressed at “how quickly he progressed, and how excited he was.”

“He went from having trouble keeping up to being someone that people were having trouble keeping up with three months later,” Mylroie said.

Desire wasn’t enough. Now a Realtor working at Choice Realty in Spokane, Frahm usually rises at 6 a.m. and rides as many as 70 miles a day. In the past year, Frahm has shed 25 pounds and now weighs about 190. But he’s still 6-foot-5 and figures he must “look like an elephant on my bike.”

He certainly has stature. After a few more wins, Frahm is up to Category 3 and qualified for next month’s Masters Nationals in Bend, Ore.

“On a bicycle, you get to know who people are, pretty quickly,” Mylroie said. “He’s a nice guy, and very humble.”

Then: Frahm leads Zags into West Regional Final

 In March 1999 the Gonzaga Bulldogs burst onto the national scene, advancing to the West Regional Final of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

 Gonzaga defeated Minnesota, Stanford and Florida to reach the Elite Eight for the only time in program history. Frahm scored a game-high 17 points in the regional semifinal against Florida and the Bulldogs won 73-72 when Casey Calvary tipped in a missed shot with 4 seconds remaining.

 Connecticut defeated Gonzaga 67-62 in the regional final and went on to win the national championship.

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