By Taylor Renkema
Phil Howlett said his mother thought the race was a great idea.
Howlett was preparing for his second 63-km run at Disney World in Orlando. The first time he ran it, 12 years ago, he raised $5,000 for arthritis research- something his mother had been struggling with.
“I did it [the race] again the next year when she was sick. She said ‘go anyway, do it. I’ll be here when you get back’.”
But things don’t always go as planned.
“When I crossed the finish line that year I was actually in tears, I was so glad I ran it,” he said. “And then the phone rang the next day.”
His mother had passed away one day after his race in January 2001.
Howlett is now a coordinator of the community and justice service worker program at Loyalist College. He said he doesn’t like running, but this January, he will run those 63 km over two days once again. This year, he hopes to raise $3,500 for leukemia and lymphoma research.
“I have this huge emotional tug to go back there every single year now,” he said.
It’s the 54-year-olds 11th time running the Disney World Marathon and his second time running with Team in Training. He said it’s sure to be a first for something this year.
“It’s a story,” he said. “Every year is a different story but it’s all about the experience.”
2011 was another tough year for Howlett. He lost three close friends to cancer that year alone.
His friend Adrian Facca died at the age of 53 in May. One month later, 52-year-old John Regan died six months after finding a lump on his leg. And in December, Howlett’s brother-in-law Mike Tully died of a rare blood cancer- Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
Howlett was devastated. He said the marathon in January 2012 was one of the hardest he’d ever done.
“Mike had passed away five weeks before that,” he said. “It was still very real.”
Howlett said there are very few true ‘marathoners’ at Disney, because most people are there to celebrate or honour someone.
“There’s a few hundred people who run just to run. The rest of us- we call ourselves penguins. We just kind of waddle our way along.”
He said he doesn’t have the body for a runner- but that doesn’t matter to him. He brings his camera along and takes photos of the runners, the moments, and the Disney characters.
He said a lot of people ask him how he runs a marathon.
“I just say ‘it’s 42,000 steps’,” he said. “One after the other, you just keep on going. The physical pain is temporary.”
He said sometimes people carry photos of lost friends or family members, ribbons, and other mementos.
“I’ve run with stage 4 cancer patients, cancer survivors, people in remission. You meet; you share your story for a mile or two.”