Remembering Brent Phillips
Running each mile in his shoes
You may have seen photos of the guy in the white shirt before, but this story isn’t about him. This is about the man to his right. Some of you know him personally, some of you may say, “I think I recognize him.” Others of you have never seen his face before. A stranger, some might say.
But Brent Phillips was no stranger. At least not to those who knew him. And he certainly wasn't a stranger to endurance sports.
Brent was an athlete, and cycling was his sport of choice. In the hours he wasn’t with his wife and children, managing the family business, or supporting his community, he was perched on the narrow seat of his bike, navigating curves, cruising through straightaways, and cresting hills with scenic overlooks. For Brent, the bike was his happy place.
With the children-in-diapers phase of his life over, Brent started to cycle more seriously in the late 1990s competing in various Ironmans and other triathlons. “He was always more of the cycler than I was, and a bit more athletic too,” his wife, Linda chuckles. “I was more of the runner, but the triathlons were something we could do together.” Linda says he was always a great partner to compete with. For Brent, the triathlons weren’t about competing for time or place, but to enjoy the experience and talk with other athletes. “Sometimes he would cross the finish line laughing and joking with someone like he had known them for his whole life. That’s just who he was,” Linda shares.
Brent competed in at least one event each year. Some of his children even joined in on the action. His daughter, Brittany, competed alongside Brent on several occasions and even continued enter competitions on her own. The family shares that many Saturdays were spent riding the Red Rock Loop in Las Vegas. His daughter Nicole jokes, “I never took him up on that offer because it was a bit too advanced, but my other siblings and even my brother in law, Dan, would ride!”
For years, the family cheered on, trained, and competed with Brent at his many races. But things slowed down around 2014. That year, Brent was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 58.
Looking back, Linda can recall something being off during his later competitions. “We were at the Ironman in St. George, Utah. And after the swim, he looked more tired than he normally did,” Linda shares.
Nicole swam competitively and was in the heat behind Brent at St. George. "I was hoping to catch up to him during the swimming portion and stick by his side." But when she got out of the water, Linda said Brent hadn't come out yet. Nicole remembers those moments of dread they all felt when they didn't know where he was.
Eventually, Brent slowly got out of the lake and finished the swim, but the transition from water to bike was tough. “But, once he was on his bike," Nicole pauses, "he was back to himself, riding circles around my sister and I — he was a lot more conditioned than us with cycling.”
For the family, it was hard to watch the mental health of their father and husband change over the years. If you’ve cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you understand what this looks like. There are good days when that old spark returns to their eyes, and then there are days that leave you wondering if they’ll ever remember you, or their children. Days spent repeating soothing words, and swallowing the lump in your throat, days spent telling little white lies like, “no, we don’t know where the bike pump is,” to protect your loved one from wandering off. To protect them, you may deny them something they love...those are some of the hardest days.
“We lost Brent in July 2020,” the family shares. And the last several months have been a journey in remembering his life and spirit.
“I was definitely struggling with grief and remembering the life of my dad,” McCall, one of Brent’s daughters, lovingly reveals. “It was about three in the morning, and I was scrolling on social media when I saw an ad for Vacation Races. It struck me, so I looked into it, and I knew it was something that I could do to honor my dad. I shared the idea with my mom and siblings hoping they would join me.” McCall teases that she wasn’t sure how they would respond.
Everyone responded with abundant enthusiasm! The family had already considered competing in races to honor his memory, and this invitation rallied everyone together.
For the oldest siblings, Brittany, Nicole, Brandon, and Danielle, this brought to light memories of training and racing with their dad. Nicole and Brandon were competitive swimmers and would often work with their dad when he was training for triathlons. “It was fun to help him improve his swimming skills,” Nicole comments, “He was never too proud to ask for help; if anything it was the opposite! He loved learning from us kids.”
Over the next several weeks, the siblings trained for the Zion Half Marathon to honor Brent, beloved husband and father. Summer, one of Brent’s daughters, shared that it gave them all something to bond over. Yes, they were each grieving in their own way, but this mutual effort allowed them to share similar experiences. A living metaphor of walking a mile — or five, or ten — in someone’s shoes.
After running the Zion Half Marathon, the Phillips say they loved the competitive flexibility of the race. "You could compete if you wanted to, or you could just enjoy the views," they commented, "It's how Brent would have wanted to run it.”
The family ran in matching shirts in memory of Brent. “A lot of people saw us in our matching shirts and asked, ‘Who’s Brent? What’s your story?’ Those questions sparked a lot of great conversations with people on the course.” The family shares that getting to talk about Brent in an environment that he loved embodied his spirit and how he approached his competitions.
“I remember there was a really long race where my dad took a break and went to a restaurant basically just to make friends; he really just wanted to connect with people!” McCall laughs, “Running at Zion and sharing our dad’s story with others on the course kind of felt like something he would do. We just wanted to create memories and I think we did that.”
“There are always going to be hard times,” Linda shares, “there’s no denying that, but it’s how we respond to that hardship that matters.” If anyone would know about this, it’s Linda. An expert in behavior change, she leads the Tiny Habits® Academy. And she and her brother, Dr. BJ Fogg, have taught thousands of people how to build the life they’ve always wanted. In their words, it’s “the small changes that change everything.”
Although Brent has passed, he imparted his love of running, cycling, and swimming to his family. “He influenced us to be athletes by example and by inviting us to race with him as we grew up,” says Nicole. Remembering Brent through the activities he loved deeply resonates with the family, especially those who were able to train and compete with him. “At Zion, I really felt like he was there with us,” Summer shares.
The family hopes to run a race every year in Brent’s memory, and they hope that sharing their story might touch others who are grieving. “We want to continue running the way he would have run.” Talking with others, making friends, and exchanging stories on the course are just a small part of keeping the memory of Brent alive.
Our loved ones always find a way to stay with us, and this seems to be Brent’s way of letting his family and friends know that while his body may not be with us, his spirit lives in our hearts.
Miles That Matter, is Vacation Races' blog segment where we share inspiring and touching stories from our runners. Some stories may make you cry, some may surprise you, and others may give you the grit to get out there and do the darn thing. Over the years, we've been inspired by the compassion and determination of our runners and this is just one small way that we can share their stories to uplift even more people. Our runners do the hard work; we're just here to share their voices.