A couple of years ago I wanted to find a running partner. Someone to help me pass the miles as the concrete moved below my feet. I started sending out emails and reached out into the community. A couple of days after my search started I got a response from a guy named Phil. Phil stated that he wasn’t a runner, and in fact had never really run but was definitely interested in starting. Sounded good to me, so I emailed him back and we decided to meet up about two weeks later. Little did I know at the time but this guy Phil, would have a tremendous impact on my life.
Now I’ve run for years and years and I have always run by myself. So this was my first time ever running with a partner. I’ve used running as kind of my meditation time, my time to figure out the ins and outs of my life. Just me and the open road listening to the sound of my feet hitting the road and entertaining whatever thoughts wanted to pass through my head.
I was excited about trying something new, but was also a little nervous to see if my new partner and I would be compatible. So on the day of our first run Phil and I exchanged pleasantries and started running. The run got off to a little bit of a rocky start as we tried to figure out each other’s pace, and I was a little worried, but then we started talking and everything changed. I found out that running with someone was actually magical, or at least it was magical running with Phil. Since Phil was new to running he still needed time to build up his stamina and we wound up walking more than we ran that first day. Regardless, I knew I had just found my new running partner.
Three years have passed since that first run/walk and we have logged hundreds of miles together. But more importantly than our running is that we have become great friends. In fact Phil has become one of my dearest and closest friends and has also become one of the great inspirations in my life.
He is that guy that seems able to do everything. From the second you meet him you know you like him, and his personality often makes him the center of attention. He’s always cracking jokes and seems to have an arsenal of one-liners ready to be tossed out at just the right moment. He is one of the most positive people I know and seems able to shine a light on even the most difficult challenges that life throws at him or you. Phil spends his days teaching disabled youth, and just launched his own business. He has been a healthcare administrator, appointed by the Governor to work on various task forces, and has sat on the board of directors for several charities, and over the years has even become somewhat of a celebrity around town. If that isn’t enough he can now run much farther than I can, and just won a snow skiing race in Colorado, after skiing for the first time just last year. Yes Phil is the total package, and there is little that it seems that he can’t do and do well.
But Phil’s most endearing quality, the one that trumps all the rest, and the one that has inspired me to look differently at my life is his passion to celebrate life. You see Phil does all of these things while being completely blind.
Phil has had poor vision his entire life but did not go completely blind until he turned 40. The crazy part (and what makes Phil Phil) is that he often says that going completely blind was the best thing that has happened to him. What?!! Yes it’s true going completely blind was a changing point in Phil’s life…..for the better! The way Phil explains it is that he lived the first 40 years fearing that he would go blind. Understandably, doing everything he possibly could to delay the inevitable. Having surgery after surgery, and avoiding any type of physical activity to make sure he didn’t have an accident that would take what vision he had left. His life was dictated by fear, but when the day eventually came when he would see no more, he suddenly realized that he no longer had a reason to be scared. Phil had to ask himself “what do you do when your greatest fear comes true?”, and his answer was to celebrate life in the grandest fashion possible! To celebrate who he was and who he was to become. To start doing all of those things that he had put off doing for so long. To start running, riding bikes, snow skiing, launching his own business, and whatever else he had added to his wish list over the years. His greatest fear amazingly seemed to open the door to a new way to look at life.
If you spend any time at all with Phil, you clearly see that his life is not easy. Being completely blind in a sighted world is tough. Very tough. But last night Phil celebrated his 7th anniversary of being completely blind (yes you read that right, he CELEBRATED the anniversary). In fact he did this in typical Phil fashion by throwing a party called “Highballs and Eyeballs”. The party was filled with stories and lots of laughter, and instead of focusing on Phil’s disability, it quickly became a celebration of all the things that are possible, of all the things that Phil has taught us, just by being Phil.
Our relationship originally started with me as the running guide and Phil as the willing new participant. We would each hold on to one end of an 18 inch rope and set out for our run. Phil would put complete trust in me that I would tug the rope at the right time or give him directions to keep him safe. Having never done this before, Phil would pepper me with questions like “Where do my hands go when we run?” “How am I supposed to do this and breathe at the same time?” “Are we jogging or sprinting?” I was literally teaching Phil how to run, but as so often happens in these situations, the teacher soon transitioned to the role of the student, and Phil started to teach me about life.
His blindness has forced me to look at disablities from a different perspective. For disabilities are simply those things that “dis-able”us from doing something. And as I looked closely at myself I realized that I had disabilities of my own. Mine are not necessarily external, and as obvious as Phil’s, but they are certainly there. They are often disguised as fear and take shape through my various thoughts and ideas. My fears are microscopic in comparison to the ones that Phil has faced, however at various times they have still paralyzed me from trying or doing new things. But as I spend more and more time with Phil, I learn that it is not until we face our fears head on, that we are able to truly celebrate life. For it is only during the celebration that the disability disappears and becomes your greatest asset toward living the life that you want.
Phil you are absolutely incredible and I want to thank you for being my friend and for all the lessons you have taught me along the way.