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The life Fantastic

Boxer Tommy Frawley had been there and done that


On a crisp Saturday morning Tommy Frawley screams into a Starbuck's parking lot in west Boise atop his Italian-made Ducati street bike. The lifelong boxer kicks the stand out from beneath the motorcycle and works the buckle on his helmet. A handful of coffee drinkers sitting at tables outside dare sideways glances, waiting to catch a glimpse of the hot shot underneath. Not surprisingly, it's Tommy, as his friends call him, who, at 78, is still living life the way he always has.

"We look at life a little differently than most people," he says of himself and wife Helen, who met him there in her car. The group of people outside the shop, who meet with Tommy almost every morning, chuckle and shake their heads. But they aren't laughing at him, they are marveling at a guy with a past that justifies a book and who seems to enjoy every moment of every day.

"You have a chance when you get up in the morning to appreciate life. I've always been excited to get out of bed and get to work. I'm just that way. My dad was that way and my kids are, too."

Three days ago, he was in the gym when someone asked if he could still throw a punch. He answered by delivering four lightning quick hits that, if contact had been made, might have left the young man in a world of hurt.

The New Jersey native takes nothing for granted and never has. He's been around the world, done just about everything a man can fit into one lifetime and now teaches boxing to anyone who wants to learn-for nothing.

"He has the gift of giving you faith in yourself," said Kathy Jones, 60, a retired school principal who is trained in Tai-Chi and has been working with Tommy for the past few months. "He is a very giving person."

His steely blue eyes and light-hearted grin are testimony to an inner peace, one that comes from a philosophy rooted in living life to the fullest, and not bragging about it. He will talk to you about his past, if you ask him, but in limited doses. A retired construction engineer, Tommy has done everything from diving for sunken treasure to building the Oklahoma pipeline. He patrolled on skis for Nazis in Europe during World War II. But don't press him for details about what he found, if anything, while diving off the coast of Haiti. "The government is always interested when you find something," he said.

Listening to his stories your imagination to run wild, the proof of his exploitations caught on film: an album filled with pictures of doubloons, a cannon from a 15th century Spanish galleon and other artifacts. Others show a remote landing strip in the jungle of Costa Rica, Tommy and unidentified associates surrounded by foreign military personnel and a friend holding up a two-foot lobster.

As an engineer, he worked on the Tappangee Bridge, which spans the Hudson River; the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel; the Martha Washington Bridge; the Verranzana Bridge and all major highways in New Jersey. Tommy began racing motorcycles in 1939 with flat track legend Dick Mann. He boxed both Golden and Diamond Gloves, was a diving instructor, a goldsmith, silversmith, sport shop owner and is an accomplished artist who loves to paint the vibrant underwater scenes with which he is so familiar.

He worked with James J. Braddock, the New York-born fighter whose boxing career comeback is portrayed by actor Russell Crowe in the movie Cinderella Man, which opened in theaters this week.

"I know his kids and went to his wake," he said of Braddock. "He was the hardest working man I ever knew."

When asked for whom he worked tagging and studying sharks, he mysteriously responds, "We did everything for us." In the same breath, he'll point to a man in a picture he says spent much of his time working with famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

His life is half-amazing, half-mysterious. But perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding Tommy Frawley is that life is not a mystery to him. He rides his Ducati, loves his family, his many friends and will spend time showing you how to throw a jab if you ask him.

"Everyone has a purpose in life," Tommy says. "It's too bad some don't use it."