Monday, 3 September 2007

Our friend passes and will be dearly remembered

Two memorials were held this weekend to celebrate the life of our friend, Philip Swanepoel. Although I've posted your messages and "official" notices, I had not yet posted my own personal message in remembrance of a man who was loved and respected by so many for his kindness, sensitivity, warmth, friendship and zest for life, sports and the people around him.

I can't specifically remember when I first met Philip; it was probably in passing at the Old Mutual Hi-Tec 250km in the Drakensberg (end July 1999) and the Old Mutual Hi-Tec 500km held in the Cederberg (end September 1999). With both of these races I was right at the back and Philip was right at the front so I most certainly did not get to speak to him during the actual race.

Over the next few years I got to know Philip better and enjoyed seeing him at all kinds of events. Here and there we'd get a few minutes to talk, our conversations always cut short by the hustle and bustle of the activities. I cheered his move from Middleburg to Pretoria, a change that would take him from a job he no longer found rewarding and allow him easier access to races and training friends. We discussed his decision to get involved with the Adventure Zone store in Pretoria; a job that was definitely closer to his heart but which was not really his "calling".

When Philip mentioned his departure for Iraq, I wished him well, asking for his safe return when he'd achieved what he needed to. We tossed about the analogy of choosing a path that doesn't lead directly from your current location to your desired destination; but that if you keep sight of your objective the path will turn to lead to where you want to go. This is something we both understood; Philip was always supportive and encouraging as I moved through tv camera work to international event coverage and freelance writing, following a very meandering route.

It was a delight when, earlier this year, Philip came through to the canoe race AR Club hosted on the Klip river in January; I didn't know that he was in South Africa. Philip hadn't been paddling for a while so instead of racing he volunteered to be a marshal, spending the morning at Dog's Bridge to guide paddlers around this tricky obstacle. It was wonderful to hear from him that he would be coming home soon.

A few months ago Jan Heenop dropped me an email suggesting that if Philip was in South Africa, would I consider doing Eden Challenge as a pair with Philip. Truth be told, I'd never even considered racing with Philip before; an awesome athlete, Philip was far faster and stronger than I could ever hope to be. I think I responded to Jan saying that it sounds great; if Philip is here and not racing with a competitive team looking for a win.

Before McCain Adventure Addicts left for Scotland, 19 May '07, I'd asked each team member for a few thoughts on the race so that I could put together a media release. I spoke to Philip a day or so before their departure and said that I needed a few lines from him, which he could put in point-form and I'd put into sentences. Know what? He wrote a full-page letter to me; humble and also expressing his joy about racing overseas with the team and seeing his "AR hero Nathan Fa’avae, who is back from 'retirement' ".

Having only recently returned to racing Philip was also a bit apprehensive; "In a way I am kind of worried seeing that I have not raced this distance for over 2.5 years. And in that 2.5 years I have only done 2 adventure races. At least I believe that I have the experience and although my fitness is not what it could be I am definitely fit enough."

It was when I got to the end of Philip's letter that I thought about Eden Challenge and made a mental note to chat to him when he returned from Scotland.

Philip had signed off with, "All the best for your adventures Lisa. We must do some exciting adventure thing together some day."

The team returned in early June and days passed. On 26 June I received an invitation to compete in a 5-day ultra run in India in late-October; an opportunity to run and write and to visit a country I've never been to. I emailed Jan to say that if this is trip is confirmed then I will be out of the country during Eden. June ended and the days of July galloped past.

Philip's chopper went down on Saturday, 28 July 2007.

I never spoke to him.

Philip, dear friend, although we didn't train together, race together or even go out for a cup of coffee, you were special to me. During all of these years I so enjoyed seeing you at events, appreciated our conversations and admired your athleticism, courage and kindness. You will be well remembered by all who knew you, whether intimately or in passing, because of the impression you made on all of our lives.

Your untimely passing is also a reminder of how mortal we are; each day could be our last.

Friend, keep running, keep riding. In another place, at another time, I do hope we'll do some exciting adventure thing together some day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a shock to loose such a huge spirit filled with passion for life and people! I met Philip on an aeroplane flying back from PE to Jhb, he was dressed in adventure gear, solomons on his feet and his heart rate monitor - as if he needed to go and do something amazing. We started chatting and went for coffee. He inspired me to actually BUY the montain bike. Philip left for Iraq and we kept in contact and strange how you always worried for his safety there...

Life is so short, so precious and so wonderful - Philip LIVED this life and he will always have a special place in my heart.

May you "rest" with angel wings wrapped around you.