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Friday, September 2, 2011

Meet our Ringleader!

In today's edition of "Meet the Players," we'd like to introduce our esteemed ringleader, Phil White. Without Phil, In Search of Memphre would not be happening and poor, old Memphre would be left by herself, all alone in that lake this fall.

Phil White, 63, Derby, VT
Ringleader, Attorney, Race Director, and Volunteer Executive Director of IROC

The driving force behind the In Search of Memphre Tour and all the Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association (NEKOWSA) events is Phil White. In just a few short years, Phil has turned Newport, Vermont into a “cannot-miss” destination for swimmers, runners, and triathletes from all over the country and around the world, and he’s done it a little differently than most race directors. While the aim is always to host elite athletes in a world-class atmosphere, he achieves this with a sense of humor. This levity is a welcome change of pace for many athletes who tire of the bombast that sometimes comes with these types of events. To be sure, there is a value placed on being fast and first, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on participating and having fun. He even organizes a “Swimmers’ & Pets’ Parade” as part of the Aquafest the evening before the 10-mile swim Kingdom Swim so the entire community can join in the fun and meet some of the extraordinary people the race draws to town. (Last year’s parade was also an Elton John look-alike contest.) These are not the sort of activities that typically precede one of the top 50 open water events in the Americas, as rated by The Daily News of Open Water Swimming, but it works for this event because of the character of the director and the town.

All the fun stuff aside, Phil does take the mission behind the events, including the In Search of Memphre Tour, very seriously. An attorney in his “real” life, Phil leads the fundraising efforts (an unpaid position) of the Indoor Recreation of Orleans County (IROC), a community wellness and recreation center. When Phil joined the board of directors in 2007, the IROC center was losing about $160,000 per year; in 2010, the events grossed $178,000 in sponsorships, registrations, and donations. IROC nets about 50% of the revenue from these events, and Phil’s efforts have transformed the outlook for the IROC center and many people in the community who rely on it for access to health and wellness activities and services.

But the benefits aren’t localized just to the Kingdom. In 2010, roughly 800 participants traveled to the Northeast Kingdom from 35 different states, four Canadian provinces, Mexico, Great Britain, and India. They came to participate in more than a half dozen different events including swims, triathlons, runs, and motorcycle rallies. Many of these people would have no other reason to find this beautiful corner of Vermont and might blissfully miss it altogether. But after taking part in one of these events, most pledge to come back, whether for a future race or just to visit. They, in turn, take a little piece of the Kingdom and Vermont home with them.

The swimmer scouts would like to thank Phil for his tireless efforts to ensure the continued successful operation of some of the best swimming events in the country. He puts in hours of unpaid time and energy to provide fun and challenging outlets for athletes from all walks of life. And he does it for the love of the lake, his community, and open water swimming. Our (flamingo) hats are off to you, Phil!!

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