This one's for Mom

On the final day of his first minicamp as a San Francisco 49er, Frank Gore had a first order of business before Sunday's morning practice. It was to make that important telephone call to a place three time zones away, where his mother Lizzie was waiting. This is a special Mother's Day for Gore, now that he has fulfilled his professional dream and soon will be able to financially help his mother's battle with kidney disease, not to mention the rest of his impoverished family.

"My mom, she has been there for me all my life," said Gore, and life has certainly had its struggles and difficult moments for both mother and son. "She kept me strong."

Lizzie Gore had her own issues to worry about. She has dealt with kidney failure since 1999, when Frank was a junior in high school and well on his way to becoming one of the nation's top prep running backs and producing one of the most storied careers in Florida history.

Lizzie is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. She continues to have dialysis three times a week, an ordeal both she and her family have endured for several years.

"Before she found out she had to get dialysis, my mom almost passed my junior year of high school," Gore said somberly. "She was in the hospital for a while. It was tough on me and my (younger) brother, because my mom was there for us all our life. It's tough to see your momma struggling."

It wouldn't be long before Frank was struggling himself with a different kind of health issue after experiencing some of the most exhilarating highs and lows a football player can face.

After rushing for 2,953 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Coral Gables High School in 2000, Gore continued his rising career at his hometown University of Miami and quickly zoomed up a depth chart that included future NFL standouts Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Najeh Davenport.

Backing up Portis as a true freshman, Gore rushed for 562 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per carry, and the future at the position was his as Portis would be leaving for the pro ranks after the season.

But Gore tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and missed the 2002 season, during which McGahee took his place and became a huge star.

Gore returned as the starter in 2003, but he tore the ACL in his right knee in the season's fifth game, jeopardizing not only his college career but the first-round NFL status for which he appeared destined.

Despite her own pains, Lizzie was there again for her hurting son.

"That's the reason I didn't quit," Gore said. "She kept me with a positive mind."

Lizzie Gore raised another family of children before Frank and his two siblings came along. When he was small, Frank said, "we had eight people in a one-bedroom apartment." Instead of going off to the college life at Miami, Gore continued to live with his mother, two younger siblings and his son, Frank Jr., now 3, in the Coconut Grove area of inner-city Miami.

"That's also what made me a strong person because I had to grow up early, since I was the oldest one and my mom was in and out of the hospital," Gore said. "That's why I got a strong mind and I'm always trying to keep my head on right and go forward."

Gore, who returned just nine months after his second knee surgery to rush for 945 yards as Miami's starting tailback last season, could have remained at Miami another year to solidify his pro status and convince the NFL that he was back to top form.

Instead, he came out early – which allowed the 49ers to grab him with the first pick of the third round – and he admitted the prospect of being able to help his mother and family entered into the decision.

He isn't able to do that quite yet. But he will in the next few months, after he signs a contract that will be worth well over $1 million and will include a hefty bonus. That also will be fulfilling a lifelong dream.

"To get me and my mom and my brother, my sister and my son, we're going to move out of our neighborhood," Gore said. "If it's going to cost me something to get (Lizzie's) health better, I'll do that, too. Anything just to have us live better. Right now, me and my brother (Travis) have our own room. So, we'll move and we'll live better."

Gore will be back home in Miami with his mother soon. But they were definitely together in spirit on Sunday, which didn't make it difficult for him to spend the day running around in the rain some 3,000 miles away at 49ers headquarters.

"My mom understands," Gore said. "As long as I'm doing something positive, she's happy. Since I made the decision to go pro, she's been happy because she knows that's my childhood dream. This was my childhood team, too, the 49ers. As long as I'm happy and doing something right, she's happy."

And that's all Gore could ask for his momma on Mother's Day.


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