HANOVER TOWNSHIP — Forget the self-help books, gym memberships and fad diets — all one local woman needed to change her life was a pair of running shoes.
Since Patty Phillips started running 32 years ago she has completed 35 marathons, including 13 Boston Marathons and all 21 Steamtown Marathons in Scranton. The walls of the upstairs office in Phillip’s Hanover Township home are adorned with medals and finish line photographs, but running didn’t just supply the now 61-year-old with a wealth of accomplishments. Running was a foundation for Phillips to rebuild upon, and her only tool — a pair of black, white and pink Nike Zoom shoes — gave her more than podiatry support.
“My best friend (Pittston native Rita Skechus) and I met at a race about 25 years ago. She’s divorced, she had her kids with her and we had the same sneakers on and that’s what kind of did it,” Phillips said. “We’ve been to Boston together, we’ve done The Boiler Maker (race) in New York, we’ve been down to Penn State and did the half (marathon) down there, so we’ve done a lot. She volunteers at Steamtown — she’s at the finish line, so she’s my welcoming.”
Phillips is also an active volunteer in the running community. She’s a 25-year member of local running club Wyoming Valley Striders and served as an officer in the organization for some time. She still volunteers with registration and runner clocking during the organization’s trail runs (Phillips self-identifies as directionally challenged and doesn’t take part in off-road running).
“I can’t even count how many years she has been helping with registration at those races,” said current Wyoming Valley Striders Secretary Linda Wojnar. “It’s wonderful that even though she’s no longer on the board that she still volunteers to help, not only participate in our races or functions.”
Spurred on by the determination shown by American long distance runner Joan Benoit Samuelson in the 1984 Olympics, Phillips purchased a pair of running shoes and had her then-husband drive her to a track in Pittston for training. Her regimen was pulled from the pages of “Runners World” and her partner was her young son, who rode his bike alongside her on the track. When running gave her the self-confidence to walk away from what she described as an abusive marriage, her hobby became her therapy — she was running 70-to-80 mile weeks, culminating in a personal best 3:18 during the 2001 Steamtown Marathon.
“I’d run in the morning and I’d run again at night,” Phillips said.
Running added more than medals and finish times to Phillips’ life. She met “the best friends ever,” and one assisted her with an eventually successful pursuit of a new career at Sallie Mae. In 2005, her journey through life and her progress as a runner intersected when she met Bear Creek resident Dave Pavlock.
“I remember at mile five at a 10k race she passed me and I thought, ‘Wow, That’s a nice looking girl, I better catch up,’ and I could not pass her,” said Pavlock, 62. “It was an uphill finish at the Sallie Mae 10k and I didn’t have the nerve to approach her then.”
Pavlock eventually worked up the nerve to approach Phillips at a run in West Pittston and ask her on a date — a 12-mile run to a creek in Lackawanna Forest with a pre-positioned pack of water, snacks, towels and a blanket waiting for them. The two will marry early next year — a busy 2017 for Phillips that includes filing for social security, continuing to enjoy her retirement and, of course, running.
“I still go out and run because I love it, I just fell so good after it’s done,” Phillips said. “I can go on with my day with an energy boost.”