Thursday, August 16, 2012

Catalina Classic: The guy who finishes

By Suzie Siegel

For three years, Phil Ambrose has raised money to help sarcoma patients. This year he helped one by telling her about the Sarcoma Alliance.

"Six weeks ago, a friend's wife was diagnosed with sarcoma," says Phil, in the photo with his son Caden after a tandem event. "It was quite the life-changing event.

"Things are looking great for her now, but in the first few weeks I put them in contact with SA and they were stoked with the response. They were very happy with the information on second opinions."

Phil paddles in the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race for the Ocean of Hope, the Alliance's largest fundraising campaign. Joining him this year will be Joel Pepper, Steve Shikiya, Steve Shlens, Tyler Resh and O2H co-captain Aimee Spector. Fred Sardisco, the other co-captain, and Mike Rogers will be helping on the beach.

The race will be Aug. 26, and O2H will have food and merchandise under its tents on Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County until 3-4 p.m. Anyone who wants to help with the set up should come at 8 a.m.

I went last year, and it was great to talk to other sarcoma survivors and hang out on the beach. Board shaper Joe Bark donates paddleboards each year for our raffle, and they are a work of art.

People who raise $3,000 can have their name or the name of a loved one on a paddle- board. In the photo, Phil's board carries the name of Wendy Sommers, one of the founders of the Sarcoma Alliance.

“This year things are very busy for me with work and family, but O2H has drawn me back in,” says Phil, who lives in Rolling Hills Estates and works as a firefighter and paramedic. He also has his own hazmat-training company based on a patent-pending training system. “I’ll find time to train for the Classic, I’ll finish the race, and I’ll pray that there are no new names to put on our boards."

He fits in most of his training when his two sons are in school. He has less time in the summer -- when most paddleboard races are held. "Do the math," he says.

"I'm hardly the super athlete. I'm the guy who finishes." 

Boats bring the paddlers to Catalina Island in the predawn dark, and the 32 miles to Manhattan Beach is a "super marathon." 

"It's not like someone walks 5 miles to raise money. The crossing has unpredictable currents. And sharks. But boats are the biggest problem. In the back of the pack, there are more boat wakes and, as time goes by, the conditions may worsen. Good news is I don't have to ask for directions.

"I call it the last frontier."

"My first year, I was dead last ... well, the last male." He had heat stroke by the time he came ashore. During the second race, "I vomited for the first three miles. Last year, I got seasick on the way over."

"My mother had leukemia, and now she's doing great. Crossing the channel, even on the worst day, is nothing compared to what people with cancer go through."

Phil learned about O2H and the Sarcoma Alliance after noticing the logos on paddleboards and asking Fred, "a great guy." 

"It's a true volunteer organization. I'm proud to be a part of it." He says he also enjoys "the common bond with the ocean-centric group.”

"Water is my passion. I love getting in the water."

Follow the fun on Facebook. Donate to the paddlers here:

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