Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Babe!

Today is Phil's birthday, he would have been 50.  His dying young is a tragedy in itself but it hurts more today to know that he didn't even make 50.  Phil always acted and looked younger than his age and people were usually shocked to find out that he was as "old" as he was.  We tended to run with a younger crowd and as the oldest of our friends he actually took pride in being one of the most physically fit ~ although being Phil, he never flaunted it or rubbed anyone's face in it.  It is just who Phil was.  When we met in 1994 he had just moved from Park City, UT to Durham, NC for PA school and had been doing a lot of high altitude trail running.  He'd spent hours at a time running the ski trails for fun... a total nut job I tell you!  When he met his classmate  David Huish, a fellow trail running madman from Farmington, Maine, it was Kismet (a Turkish word meaning fate or destiny).  They immediately sized one another up and ran each other to their limits, getting lost on their first run together in the Duke forest and running further than they probably intended too ~ loving every minute and forging a friendship that would carry them through the challenges of PA school, young married life, their careers, starting families, and the crucible of cancer.

When he was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes several years ago (an autoimmune adult onset type) Phil became even more zealous about his fitness and controlling his blood sugar became extremely important to him.  His HGB A1C (hemoglobin A1C - a measure of blood sugar control) was always excellent and below what was desirable for him.  He exceeded expectations and went the extra mile, making sure that his health came first.  He was always on time for check ups, always reading about his disease, and always running, biking and exercising.  

So it was shocking when he of all people got sick.  It was not supposed to happen to Phil.  He took such good care of himself.  He looked younger than he was.  He was strong. He didn't deserve it.  But that's the thing with cancer.  No one deserves it.  And that's the thing with getting sick.  No one sees it coming and no one is immune.  It just happens and it happens to good, strong people who you love.

All week I've been anticipating feeling sad and having a difficult time with today.  But then this morning I heard a story on NPR that helped me feel better.  A husband and wife were talking about their 18 or 20 yr old son who had died of mononucleosis and the wife's tremendous grief for 5 years after.  She said that one day her husband asked her if she'd known ahead of time that this would happen to them, would she have traded the short time they had with their son?  Without missing a beat she said "No, I wouldn't trade having loved him for a second."  

That's what I needed to hear this morning.  I wouldn't have traded a minute loving and knowing Phil either.  Today is about celebrating that Phil lived, not that he died.  He lived life fully and fought hard to continue living.  I miss him because he left such a huge impression on my life and that of my kids, family and friends.  Join me in celebrating a life well lived and cut short too soon.     


  1. Happy 50th Birthday, Phil!

  2. Well said. His strong spirit continues in you and the kids.
    God Bless and keep you that way.

    Alice Fallon

  3. Thanks, Sally, for a great tribute. Happy Birthday, Philbo!

    Bennett West & family

  4. Sally - your tribute to Phil on his 50th birthday really struck a chord within me - for so many reasons...

    Yes, it is a tragedy and so antithetical that Phil had to contend with all of the challenges he experienced in his life and yet, as so you so eloquently wrote, cancer, illness, accidents, adversity of any kind spares none of us and can occur at any time.

    And yet... the honesty, the courage, the humility, the kindness, and care which he demonstrated in contending with his cancer and his other challenges served as not only an ongoing testament to his character but as a beacon of hope to all of us privileged to know and love Phil who do and will deal with our own challenges.

    Phil will always remain a champion in my mind - someone who I always have and always will think of when the road ahead appears dark, uncertain, frightening, and one of the best friends I ever knew who will stay alive in my thoughts, words, and deeds.

    Your remarks about Phil's youthful nature, his tremendous capacities - for fun, for openness, for sharing, for forgiveness, for understanding, for learning, and physical capacities for almost any athletic endeavor - were right on. Despite capacities far beyond what most of us commonly encounter in others, Phil went about what he did quietly, with humility, and good humor.

    Being a few years younger than Phil and less mature in many ways, I learned a great deal from his example - in the classroom, with patients, and on our many, many runs across the rolling, wooded North Carolina Landscape, deep into The American River Canyon in California, and here in Maine.

    It was clear to me at the time but ever clearer in retrospect that each and every run we shared, the words, the studying on-the-fly, the laughter, the discussionsand ruminations about life and love, and even our friendly competition forged a friendship that spanned many years and miles apart but never faded.

    The indelible impression that Phil left upon me will never fade.

    To this day, not a training run, not a race, not a bike ride, not a nordic ski passes without my mind and my heart syncing with my dear friend and his courageous spirit.

    I wear the Livestrong band he gave me every time I train or race. Zoe and Gretchen wear it as well.

    So here is to my friend, his lovely wife, and his dear children on his birthday.

    Cheers my friend.

    David Huish

  5. Thanks for that Sally. It brought back so many memories that I have of Phil... and our running days. Every time I hit the trails he has been with me and some bit of the course always has his memories flooding back to me.

    I was reflecting the other day when you all came here to celebrate my 50th and how "old" I felt then. :) Thanks so much for bring back such fond memories. I celebrate with you.