11 golds for Phillips

September 22, 2018

DEADWOOD — Most anyone would be over the moon with just one. But for 72-year-old master swimmer and triathlete Jim Phillips, who competed in the South Dakota Senior Games Sept. 6-9 in Sioux Falls, securing 11 first-place and one second-place finishes, it sticks in his craw that he was one first-place medal short of a dozen.

“I want to be a role model for my grandkids,” Phillips said. “When I came back from Sioux Falls with 11 first places, I really expected to get 12 first places, but they just don’t look at it that way. Yeah, 11 firsts. I got beat in the first event — the 50 free. Then I kind of got my poop in a group and won the next 11 — the 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 50 back, 100 back, 200 back, 50 breast, 100 breast, 200 breast, 50 butterfly, 100 individual medley.”

What is Phillips’ favorite event?

“Freestyle. I love freestyle,” he said. “I love doing (individual medleys), which is all four strokes, but the back stroke just kicks my butt. I’m not real flexible in the shoulder area.”

While competing in the Senior Games is nothing new for Phillips, who is known to participate in multiple events, once entering up in no less than 30, hauling home 11 first-place medals is.

While Phillips stores those medals on a white plastic hanger in a downstairs basement closet, it is clear that competition fuels this athlete’s passion.

“It’s something I’ve done all my life, something I do fairly decently, something that I understand what it does for my body and for my mentality,” Phillips said. “I just get into a different zone when I get into the pool or a lake or get into competition, not that I’m working hard just to compete, but I get into a zone where my mind feels good, my body feels good, it’s a connection. Whatever it is, I feel good when I’m done. When I finished swimming Orman, I did something not many people have ever done or what to do. But that’s what fires my passion. It’s a feeling I get of accomplishment. It’s hard to verbalize. I’ve been blessed it hasn’t beat my body up. It’s cliché, but it’s just a passion.”

Over the years, many individuals have been inspired by Phillips, his competitions, his enthusiasm for life, and his innate talent for impromptu mentorship.

“This was not a ‘walk in the park’ kind of competition,” said Deb Siemonsma, who swims at the Deadwood Recreation Center and has experienced the can-do attitude Phillips inspires. “Jim has been training all summer and very intensely in the past three weeks. He has swam all the events in his morning workouts.”

Pearls of wisdom from Phillips?

“I go with my gut. I go with what I think is right. I live my life in a way that I feel would make my kids and parents proud of me and all my students. I want them to say, ‘Gosh, Mr. Phillips not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk, too.’ I don’t want to tell kids to live their lives right and then not do it myself. I want all my students to be proud of me and maybe I’ll motivate them to be good people,” he said.

Anything else?

“Yes. I want to thank Nancy, my wife, for putting up with all my crap,” Phillips said. “She put up with all the crazy swims I’ve done and in Sioux Falls, she was bored for three days. She can’t swim from me to you, but both her kids were state champions. Her oldest granddaughter is a state champion, and bless her heart, she puts up with all my swimming.”

To participate in the South Dakota Senior Games, entrants must be at least age 50 on or before Dec. 31 the year of participation.

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