Phil Anderson is a competitive runner; a VERY competitive runner. Since 1980, when he tied on his first pair of running shoes, Phil has put in nearly 40,000 hard miles, finishing in 38 marathons and 76 ultra- marathons.
So, it’s no surprise that despite having a stroke, he’s continued to run, refusing to let this become an obstacle in his way.
One day back in April 2007, Phil woke to discover that while he was sleeping, he had experienced a stroke on the left side of his brain. The 62-year-old elite athlete found himself in the unenviable, and totally unexpected, role of stroke survivor.
Phil was admitted to an acute care university hospital to be stabilized and evaluated, but even though his balance and speech were still way off, he was discharged to home only three days later. He didn’t receive any in-patient rehab; instead he spent the next two-plus years working on speech therapy as an out-patient, at the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NHR) in Bel Air, Maryland.
Phil was lucky in that he didn’t need to use any special medical equipment. In fact, besides speech therapy, the only other “therapy” he had was to work with computer games, and to use his laptop to practice writing and sending e-mails to his friends. This “informal rehab” yielded benefits. Even though he still has trouble speaking, Phil can now read and write fairly well again. He has lingering balance problems, so he’s very cautious when he walks and runs.
Prior to his stroke, Phil worked for Provident Bank for 30 years in data processing / information management, retiring in March of 2005 when he turned 60. His job not only required technical fluency, but a strong command of language. So, it’s no wonder that his damaged communication skills were the most difficult thing for Phil to accept immediately after his stroke (and, even now, four years post-stroke).
With this in mind, Phil says that it’s easy to identify his greatest achievement since his stroke, and for that matter, his whole life. His greatest achievement has not been running in marathons or ultra-marathons, and not in earning the approximately 100 medals that he’s been awarded for participating in those competitions but, rather, in recapturing his ability to write, as well as being able to stand up in front of his friends, and fellow runners, and speak about his on-going stroke recovery.
Aphasia remains his most perturbing, and challenging, post-stroke residual. Phil says that he isn’t angry. In fact, in an odd way he’s happy that he had a stroke because it forced him to slow down and appreciate life more.
Not that he’s slowed down all that much. When he first retired, he decided to work one day a week in the pro shop of a local golf course, but had to quit since his post-stroke speech problems made it impossible to talk on the phone. He decided to concentrate on “the basics,” running with a renewed energy, and a drive to get better.
As part of this plan, Phil began to compete again. In fact, he’s preparing for a grueling 24-hour race that will be held in Philadelphia, Pa., on July 16 & 17, 2011. But, Phil being Phil, he’s not content to just run in marathons; he’s organizing, as well.
Twenty three years ago, he originated the successful Hinte-Anderson Trail 50K race (also called “The HAT Run”, http://www.hatrun.com/ ). Shortly after his stroke in 2007, he decided to start another race that he named “The Survivor Run”; 2011 was his fourth year participating in this marathon.
He’s even designed a new “Survivor Run” logo for the competition. (For anyone who’s interested, the 5th Annual Survivor Run will be held on April 1, 2012; additional info can be found at http://www.survivorrun.com).
While, it’s no surprise that running is, and always will be, Phil’s primary passion, he’s done more than just resume competitive running since having a stroke: he’s also applying himself to more “creative” endeavors. For one thing, he’s been gardening a lot more. And, he’s been doing more outdoor projects for his home, such as building a walkway, a small mountain garden and a covered patio.
To guarantee that he keeps up with his speaking and writing “therapy,” Phil donates his time to two different non-profit groups: volunteering for four hours every Tuesday at the Upper Chesapeake Hospital (UCH) and acting as Treasurer for the Maryland and Pennsylvania Trail Association, in Bel Air, Md. He also networks with other stroke survivors by attending a monthly stroke survivor meeting at UCH.
All of these many accomplishments and “external” changes have been great, but Phil says that having a stroke has had a deeper effect on him. His stroke has changed his entire outlook, and in a very positive way. Phil says that he’s a better man now than he was before having a stroke. Carol, his wife of 40 years, confirms that he’s easier to live with, and as a result, they’ve become closer than ever. Carol had a bout with cancer in 2010 (she’s now cancer-free), which gave her a new perspective, as well. Phil says that the two of them appreciate life much more, and they’re truly blessed.
While Phil gives full credit to his wife for enabling him to reach his full potential post-stroke. He says that his daughter, Heather, and his speech therapist, Leigh Root at the NHR, come in a close “second,” for providing him with tremendous support at the most crucial times.
Phil, the stroke survivor, will keep on running…. and then some. If you have any questions about running post-stroke, or about The Survivor Run in 2012, you can reach Phil Anderson via the Stroke Network. His user id is: panderson