Benton High School Alum Bradley Phillips sprints towards success

Bradley Phillips, center, is all grins as he signs his letter of intent to run track with Missouri Baptist University. (RLC public information photo)

INA – Bradley Phillips has something to prove.

Simply put, Phillips wants to prove he’s fast. But, there is so much more to it than that.

A high school track sprinter at Benton Consolidated High School, Phillips was a member of both the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relay teams that smoked the previous school records.

“The 4×4 relay, we broke the record at state. We qualified at sectionals by running a 3:26. At state, we were seeded second. At state we ran a 3:22.85, and I believe that broke the school record by just under two seconds,” Phillips explained.

In spite of his success, Phillips received no offers to run at the college level. It was something that shook his belief in himself.

But, this is a young man who is no stranger to adversity.

When he was eight, he was riding his bike when he hit a hole in his yard. The handlebar struck Phillips in the rib, breaking it and sending the bone though his lung and into his liver. He had internal bleeding and a collapsed lung.

“I remember crawling up to the back door because I couldn’t walk. My sister was screaming and crying. They had to put a tube in me to re-inflate my lung and another to get rid of all the fluids.”

He survived the encounter and overcame a number of personal issues to find success. He wasn’t about to let this newest development derail him.

So, with track out of the question, he changed gears and set his sights on his degree.

“My plan was to go to SIU. So, I applied there. But, before the semester started, I had a change of heart. I decided to go to community college and save some money,” Phillips explained. “So, I called and withdrew from my classes. They told me it was all taken care of, and I started to come here to Rend Lake.”

It came as a shock when almost a year later he received a letter for SIU saying that he owed the college thousands of dollars for classes he never attended.

“I thought I was going to have to drop out of school here. There was no way I was going to be able to pay that. I was afraid a collection agency would try to take my car away or something like that.”

Luckily, Phillips had someone in his corner. Actually, a group of someones, the RLC STARS Program, a group of dedicated individuals devoted to student support.

RLC’s STARS Program is a Student Support Services grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education as a component of TRIO. It is designed to help eligible Rend Lake College students make the most of their college years by offering the advisement and academic support that may be needed to successfully complete a college degree and transfer to a four-year university. The STARS Program assists 160 Rend Lake College students each year.

“It took a lot of paperwork to prove I wasn’t there. I had to get my work stubs. There was a petition that I had to fill out. Leah [Stallman, TRIO Director] helped me navigate the whole thing. Without that help, I’m not sure what would have happened. That almost stopped me from going to college,” Phillips expressed.

“It’s like a little group of family. Amy [Cook] is like my mom. Jessica [Phillips] and Leah are like my aunts. Everyone over there is just so cool. Deidra [Traylor] and Marcia [Whitehead] are great. Everyone over there is just so friendly and helpful.”

Phillips credits STARS with being one of the reasons he is even still at college. Everything from transportation issues to food to a friendly ear, he says they are more than just college employees. He calls them his family.

With his academic life sorted back out, Phillips couldn’t shake his other passion, improving in the gym. But, without a track program at RLC, the runner began focusing on building muscle.

Instead of preparing for the next race, he was set on working out “to get big.”

“I was just a typical gym dude,” he said with a shrug. “I spent a lot of time in the gym.

Again, someone stepped up to help him get back on track. Coach Aron Kays, his former assistant track coach at BCHS, contacted Phillips and encouraged him to start running again and compete independently.

“Coach Kays saw something in me though. I wasn’t a very good athlete when I was little. I was scrawny, but I wanted to get better. I had a lot of drive. I wasn’t going to quit. I was always trying to learn more and figure things out. I was the guy who was always putting in work in the offseason. I buckled down and started really eating right and putting in more time than everyone else.”

“At that point, he had more faith in me than I had faith in myself,” Philips said.

So, at his coach’s urging, Phillips took to the track again. In his first meet back, he put up a time comparable with any of his races during his senior year. He hadn’t lost a step.

“I came out, trained hard for three weeks and ran a really good time. There was no reason to just keep trying. I proved to myself that I could do it.”

Little did Phillips know at the time, but his decision to start competing again would change his life.

During a competition at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., Phillips raced against Missouri Baptist University (MOBAP) standout and RLC alum Robert Grinder.

All Phillips was hoping for was to compete with Grinder. He ended up leading some of the race and earning the attention of his competitor.

“He ended up beating me by a few hundredths of a second. He won conference at MOBAP. So, he’s a really great sprinter. So, after the race, Robert came back to me and gave me a high five. He told me good race and then introduced me to his coach, Mark Sissom.”

Phillips hit it off with the coaching staff at MOBAP and started communicating with the team.

All the hard work culminated last month when Phillips singed his letter of intent to run for Missouri Baptist starting in the fall, complete with an academic scholarship.

“This scholarship is a big deal,” he said grinning.

“I know I wasn’t born with athletic talent. I’ve had to really work hard to get where I am. I have been extremely lucky to have some fantastic people around me. Without people like Coach Kays or STARS, I wouldn’t have gotten here either. So, I want to win every time I complete. I want to represent this area and the people who put their faith in me,” he expressed.

Originally, Phillips wanted to study Physical Therapy. His obsession with improving athletically led him to put a lot of time and effort into studying what would help make him a better runner. But, during his time at RLC, he switched goals. Now, he’s hoping to become a math teacher.

Phillips enjoys mathematics. While running doesn’t come easy for him, numbers do. Plus, his entire life has been shaped and molded by the teachers who were there for him while he was growing up.

Phillips will graduate with his RLC degree in a few short weeks thanks in no small part to the STARS team and the generosity of Rend Lake College Foundation donors who provided one of the academic scholarships that Phillips was able to earn during his time in Ina.

So here, at the starting line of the next big chapter in his life, Phillips knows what he’s running for. Now, it’s more than just competing. It’s proving the trials and tribulations didn’t slow him down. It’s proving that he believes in himself as much as those around him do. It’s proving that he can be more than fast. It’s about proving he can be the best, both on and off the track.

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