Running community mourns longtime coach Phil Phimister

Former CCRC president died last week at 64

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

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Phil Phimister coached track and cross country for more than 30 years in Clark County.

For Phil Phimister, it didn’t matter if you were fast or slow.

It didn’t matter if you were one of the thousands of runners he coached at Prairie High School or whether you competed for a different team.

If you were a runner, Phimister wanted you to enjoy the sport and maybe get a little faster in the process.

Phimister died last week after a battle with severe depression. He was 64.

Wednesday, hearts were heavy at the final summer race of the Clark County Running Club. Phimister was an original member and past president of the club.

Current president Russ Zornick gave a poignant speech after the 5K race at Marine Park in Vancouver.

“Our hearts are broken at the loss of this outstanding human being,” he said. “Not only was he an outstanding runner in his own right, he also coached and mentored thousands of young runners and helped them reach their potential and dreams, as both runners and human beings.”

After growing up in Camas, Phimister attended Central Washington University. In 1981, he ran what is currently the second-fastest 10,000 meters in school history (29 minutes, 46 seconds).

In 1983, he began a 31-year teaching and coaching career in the Battle Ground school district, primarily at Prairie High School.

Amy Campbell, one of Phimister’s two daughters, said coaching track and cross country was her father’s passion.

“Coaching to my dad was a holistic thing,” she said. “I’m touched by the messages from parents who say my dad cared about their child as a whole, and that’s what made them a great runner.”

Campbell said her father was an encyclopedia of running routes, workouts and race results.

“He knew everybody’s times better than they did,” she said. “It was so important for him to know the results and who was running fast, who was running a PR or having a great race. That was dinner conversation in our house.”

The running community was Phimister’s extended family. He wanted that family to be open to everyone.

When Zornick took over for Phimister as CCRC president 15 years ago, Phimister urged that annual membership always be affordable. It remains $10 to this day.

“He wanted to make it as inexpensive as possible,” Zornick said. “Keep it simple. We’re here to run.”

Jesse McChesney, 29, is a two-time winner of the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon, which is CCRC’s showcase race. He joined the club in 2004 and remembers seeing Phimister at nearly every race since.

“He was always really positive,” he said. “He would come up and say ‘hey you did well. How’s your training going?'”

Funeral arrangements are pending. Campbell said a December race, the Lincoln School Cookie Run, will serve as a de-facto memorial race for Phimister.

But she said the greatest memorial to her father is that he lives on in thousands of runners, in Clark County and beyond.

“My dad left an amazing legacy,” she said. “He has touched the lives of runners who felt his love and can carry on that passion in their lives moving forward so they can be more successful and pass that on to other people.”

Zornick echoed that thought.

“I don’t think he’ll ever be forgotten,” he said. “I know we’re always going to be talking about Phil, as long as I’m around.”