by Alice Blackmore
On Sunday, February 17, 2013, Phil Toomey stopped at the large Livestrong Austin Marathon booth where hundreds of banners and ribbons were dangling from crossbars. These weren’t just any ribbons. Each represented someone, somewhere, who was fighting cancer, survived cancer, or had lost their battle to cancer. Someone like Phil’s sister-in-law, who died ten years before of breast cancer. And someone, like his friend Cheryl, whose name he wrote on one of the ribbons and pinned to his shirt. Cheryl had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and running a Livestrong marathon was Phil’s way to support her and to fight back.
Little did Phil know that in two short months, he himself would be diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease that over 12.6 % of men worldwide will contract over their lifetime. Phil didn’t need treatment yet, but his diagnosis meant active surveillance of his tumor with an annual Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and ultrasound and the knowledge that he was living with a ticking time bomb. His life was now divided into two parts: BC and AC. Before cancer and after cancer.
Phil decided to fight back at cancer. He set out to raise money to support Livestrong’s cancer survivorship programs by running marathons. His goal was to run not just one or two marathons, but the six major world marathons held in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, London, and Berlin, plus a sanctioned marathon on every continent.
He choked up when he reminisced about his experience at the Livestrong Austin marathon booth. He said that he “felt God was talking to him in that moment about what he was going to experience himself.” He stated, “I believe that God blessed me with this disease so I can be of service to others.”
And service is what Livestrong does for the millions of people facing an illness that is both cruel and devastating. “Livestrong has a practical attitude about life with cancer,” Phil said. “They run a fertility program for cancer survivors struggling with conception. They partner with the YMCA so that survivors can have access to an exercise facility post-surgery and chemo to help them physically put life back together again; because sometimes the cure for cancer is worse than the disease.”
What was Phil doing during the years after he received his diagnosis? He was running marathons to raise support for Livestrong. He often ran a full/half marathon every second month. He ran the six major world marathons and has run a sanctioned marathon on every continent except for Africa and South America. In fact, he ran until the ball joint of his right hip was completely worn out. In his physician’s words, “There was no cartilage — nothing.” The physician also told Phil, “No more running” and to “start biking.”
This is Phil Toomey’s backstory and the beginning of a new chapter in his life. Instead of running to raise money for Livestrong, he is now biking for Livestrong. He has chosen five races to bike in 2023, all of which are in the US, and one that is considered to be the granddaddy of all races, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
However, we will begin with his first scheduled race: the TD Five Boro Bike Tour on May 7, 2023. On the day of this race, many roads and bridges in New York City are closed to motorized vehicles so that bikers of every skill level can safely ride a total of 40 miles through the streets of all five boroughs. Livestrong is one of the many official charity partners for the race and Phil is one of the charity participants fundraising on their behalf.
These days, Phil is busy training for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour by riding 100 miles on the weekends on his mountain bike or stationary bike, along with stretching and doing core exercises. This is no small feat for a man a man who celebrated his 69th birthday this past February.
When we spoke, Phil made it clear that he doesn’t want this series to be about him. He wants it to be all about Livestrong. He wants you to know about what Livestrong does for our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, teenagers and babies, friends and grandparents, and maybe even you, who are fighting for health and wellness. He wants you to know that Livestrong is there for you and for them.
So if you see Phil riding in New York, yell “Hey Phil” and give him a thumbs up. You can also support him by leaving a donation on Phil’s Livestrong fundraiser page. Or grab a bike yourself, sign up for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, and have fun biking while supporting the cancer community.
To hear more about Phil’s experience in the TD Five Boro Bike Tour and second race in July, stay tuned for the next installment of his story. Part 2 of 5 coming this June!
About Livestrong Events
When you participate in a Livestrong event, you are helping cancer patients access Livestrong survivorship programs and services. We serve over 50,000 cancer patients each year and we cannot do this without the blood, sweat, tears, and smiles of our amazing event participants.
The fight is personal. We have all been touched by cancer. Whether you choose to bike, run, or walk, dedicate your miles to a loved one who has battled this disease. Challenge yourself. Challenge cancer. Challenge accepted? View our full 2023 event lineup.
About the Author
Alice Blackmore is a freelance writer who uses her nursing expertise to craft blog posts and health articles that resonate with readers around the world. When she is not writing, she is hiking, running, kayaking, or just hanging out with family. Read more of Alice’s work at InsightfulNursing.com.
An ordinary guy living an extraordinary life: Phil’s Story (1 of 5) was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.