Stories of Hope
92-Year-Old Colon Cancer Survivor Races to Health
Article date: February 28, 2002
Running is not for everybody. But do some kind of exercise. There's no excuse for not doing something for your body. Don't just be a couch potato. It's a matter of making up your mind to do something good for yourself. Then just keep at it.
In 1980 with no prior symptoms, Hoyt Philpot woke up one morning bleeding. He had colon cancer. An operation completely took out the malignant tumor, and at the time, he needed no further treatment.
Philpot took a good look at the people he knew who had cancer. They seemed to just give up and not do anything, he said. But he wanted to do something for himself. After reading a Reader's Digest article about strengthening the heart through exercise, he decided to start running for his health. He was 70 years old.
Steady Wins the Race
Jogging on his own three times a week, it took him a year to run a mile without stopping. He just worked at it gradually, building his lungs and his strength.
Within three years, he was running five miles without stopping, and he entered his first race. He ran his first 10K (6.2 miles) in 1983, taking second place, ahead of those in their 60s. Philpot was then 73. His best time in a 10K was clocked at 61 minutes. He continued to run only 10Ks into his mid-80s.
Philpot came to enjoy his routine of running five miles at daybreak near wherever he lived. Home was 44 years in Chicago, where he was a mechanic, first on steam locomotives, then on diesel engines. After retirement he lived in Florida. Since 1993 he's been back in Georgia, where he lives within a mile of where he was born and lived his first 19 years.
Philpot also gets his exercise by enjoying the outdoors. He's an avid hunter of wild turkey and loves to fish for largemouth bass and crappie. Ten years ago Philpot had a colonoscopy, and they found another tumor; this time non-malignant. He had it surgically removed, and they got it all. "The fact I stayed healthy and have been on my feet most of the time," he said, "is a blessing."
Mental Clarity a Benefit of Exercise
In 22 years, rain or shine, Philpot has finished more than 300 10Ks and 5Ks, earning nearly 250 awards. His ribbons, medals, and trophies decorate and fill his den.
"The run really makes you feel good, not only physically, but also gives coping ability and mental clarity," he said. "I don't mean to brag," Philpot said, "but my mental capacity is above average, better than those who don't exercise, and I attribute that to running."
Philpot enjoys the camaraderie of the races. "It's just great being part of the crowd," he said. "It's nice to have young people come up to me, saying I'm an inspiration. I enjoy encouraging people, and the good you can do by setting an example. In turn, I have a lot of people cheering me on."
He's become a local legend. The Seafood Festival in Pensacola, Fla., was named for him in honor of his 90th birthday.
Still No Couch Potato
Although Philpot no longer runs 10Ks now at age 92, he walks in 5K races at a rate of 18 minutes per mile, and is often the oldest racer. He still gets out at daybreak, 2.5 miles three times a week. He is more out of breath now, but he really feels different when he doesn't exercise.
Philpot has a resting pulse rate of 56 — healthier than most younger adults. How did his wife feel about his running? "When my wife Betty was living, she didn't encourage me because she was afraid I'd die of a heart attack when I was running," said Philpot. "Even though she didn't exercise herself, she never criticized or tried to stop me.
"I only found out through friends how much she worried, after she had died of a heart attack," he said.
"Running is not for everybody," said Philpot. "But do some kind of exercise. There's no excuse for not doing something for your body. Don't just be a couch potato. It's a matter of making up your mind to do something good for yourself. Then just keep at it."