"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Jim and Carolyn Phillips — Don’t stop being active at any age

By on January 25, 2021 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
Carolyn Phillips: During the summer, she runs, bikes and swims. She also hikes and backpacks.

By Sarah Shaffer

Jim and Carolyn Phillips are local legends. 

I have heard their names through the grapevine over the years as being an extremely athletic couple and eventually randomly met Jim while at a crag up the Icicle. 

He came hiking up the trail to where my husband, myself and my child were bouldering. 

He said he noticed our vehicle that stated Wenatchee Outdoors on the back and he wanted to come meet us and introduce himself. 

Jim is well known for his route building for rock climbing routes in the Leavenworth region, as well as his downhill skiing. 

Carolyn is well known for her skiing, wood chopping skills (splitting copious amounts of firewood by hand even at the age of 81) along with her triathlon racing. 

Jim and Carolyn inspire by the amount of activity they fit in a day along with their youthfulness at 80 and 81 years young respectively while still competing in various athletic events. 

They inspire us, and we hope you enjoy getting to know them a bit in this interview. 

Question: Jim and Carolyn, please tell us a bit about yourselves. 

Answer: Jim: I enjoy spending time with family, skiing and climbing. Being on backpacking trips with our grandchildren as well.

Carolyn Phillips: She began skiing 59 years ago, and still trains and skis 80-plus days a year.

Carolyn: Ditto, but I would add camping, fly fishing and quilting. 

Question: Carolyn, did I see on Facebook that you are 80? Jim, how old are you? Did I see you have been married for over 50 years? That is fantastic. How did you meet?

Answer: Carolyn: I just turned 81.

Jim: I am 80 years old. We met in Oakland, California when we were both working at Mills College. Skiing connected us forever.

Question: What type of work did you do at Mills College?

Answer: Carolyn: I taught physical education at the high school level for two years, then at Mills College and later at Pacific Lutheran University.

Jim: I was assistant director of buildings and grounds at Mills College and the director of buildings and grounds at Pacific Lutheran University.

Question: What food or sleep routines should I partake in to have as much energy as you do? 

Answer: Jim: Generally I get eight hours of sleep a night. We mostly eat at home and only eat out when we are on road trips. Carolyn makes great homemade meals. Our breakfasts are oatmeal, cream of wheat, eggs, waffles and French toast. Sunday, Carolyn makes her specialty: Swedish Hot Cakes.

Question: For those people who are in their 60s-90s who aren’t super active, what advice or suggestions can you give them to start being more active?

Answer: Carolyn: First of all don’t stop being active. That’s the secret. If you aren’t active, start slow. Walking is a great place to begin. If the person is not mobile, there are a lot of exercises to perform while sitting in a chair.

Question: Are you downhill ski racers? 

Answer: Jim: We do enjoy downhill racing on the USSA Masters circuit. Masters racing is an age group competition for older skiers. We do slalom, giant slalom, Super G and downhill.

Carolyn: Our whole family is full of ski racers. Our children raced through college, and our daughter continues to race Masters. Our son also occasionally enters a Masters race when not coaching younger racers. Our grandchildren also race.

Question: How did you get into ski racing? What type of racing is your favorite? How many years have you been ski racing?

Answer: Jim: We occasionally entered local races early on, then when our kids were away at college, we started traveling to local, regional and national races. My favorites are slalom and downhill. I have been skiing for 54 years.

Carolyn: I began skiing 59 years ago when I took my first teaching job and was appointed Ski Club advisor. I had never previously been on skis. My high school students were happy to show me how. The rest is history.

Question: How do you train for ski racing? How long before race season starts do you start preparing?

Answer: Jim: We have a coach that we train with once a week, starting in January every year. We also attend a five-day training camp at the start of each season. I just try to stay in shape all year. 

We train specifically for racing by running gates under supervision of a coach. We also do technical-free skiing under the supervision of a coach to improve the performance and speed of running gates.

Carolyn: Jim and I train together, and I sometimes attend a summer ski camp at Mount Hood. 

During the summer, I run, bike and swim. Also I hike and backpack. I use the Skier Edge Machine, Rowing ERG (Ergometer) and bike on a trainer if the weather is too inclement to go outdoors. 

Prior to the ski season I attend a ski race camp to work on technique. During the season, I train slalom and/or GS one morning a week. Other than that, I ski a lot, 80-plus days per year.

Question: Are you both rock climbers? Jim, I believe you have been cleaning and creating climbing routes for years now? What inspired you to do this? How long have you been rock climbing?

Answer: Jim: I seldom repeat routes, so I am always looking for a new climb which leads to putting up new routes. I have been climbing for 62 years, and my first climb was in Yosemite in 1958. 

My favorite is alpine climbing, but now that I am old and slow I spend almost all of my time rock climbing. I still love road trips and manage at least one each year.

Carolyn: I don’t rock climb but do alpine climbing. I have climbed Mount Rainier eight times by six different routes and all the other Cascade volcanoes at least once.

Question: Jim, how many climbing routes have you put up to date? Do you keep track?

Answer: I really don’t keep track of the exact number of new routes that I put up. It is probably in the range of 200 to date. I do keep a journal of my climbs and know that I have climbed over 1,000 routes in the Leavenworth area.

Question: Any books or resources you can recommend for training for downhill ski racing, rock climbing, crew or triathlons? Or just books that inspire you?

Answer: Carolyn:
I don’t learn how “to do” from books. I learn by “doing” and getting good instruction. I am a self motivator.

Jim: I really don’t get much out of books relating to climbing instruction or ski racing. I do get my inspiration from mountaineering and climbing-related books. I have collected rare and first-edition books on those subjects for many years.

Question: Favorite piece of ski gear, climbing gear or wood splitting gear and why?

Answer: Carolyn: I love my Atomic GS Skis. Jim keeps them perfectly tuned. Condition of Marriage: I’ll cook his meals as long as he tunes my skis. 

And I do have a favorite splitting maul that is lightweight.

Jim: I don’t have a favorite. I just try to keep my equipment up to date (and light as possible these days).

Question: Favorite life quote for each of you.

Answer: Jim: Each generation can — and shall — enjoy its own special time.

Carolyn: Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.

Question: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Answer: Jim: Carolyn is known for her skiing, but she is a two time National Champion in crew and a triathlete that has been on the podium many times as well as a National Champion in skiing so many times I can’t count!

Carolyn: Jim is known as “Keeper of the Canyon.”

Question: How did Jim get that title?

Answer: Carolyn: Someone called to ask Jim to do something in the canyon. He began, “I know you are not the Keeper of the Canyon but could you replace a missing bolt hanger.” After that Jim received numerous requests to replace missing anchors at top of routes, bolts, etc. and the name stuck.

Question: Carolyn, how did you get into crew racing and doing triathlons? What is your favorite triathlon race?

Answer: While at Mills, I was assigned to be faculty advisor to the Mills College crew. Since they rowed out of Lake Merritt Rowing Club facility, I decided to join the Lake Merritt Rowing Club and began rowing. I still have my own single hanging in the garage, but haven’t rowed in years.

My daughter is an Ironman and has made it to the Ironman Championships in Kona. She convinced me to enter a triathlon. I only do the Sprint Distance. Swim 0.5 miles, bike 12.4 miles, run 3.1 miles.

Question: Jim, when we have seen you out at the crags, I believe you mentioned one time being home to have a stiff drink with your wife at a specific time every day? Is this true? What a nice evening activity.

Answer: Carolyn: 5 p.m. is cocktail hour.

Jim: I like a social drink, not a stiff drink, at what we call our cocktail hour, which is a time for Carolyn and I to get together at the end of the day.

The full version of this story appears on Wenatcheeoutdoors.org — the site covers such topics as hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, trail running and skiing in the region.

Sarah Shaffer is the Executive Director of WenatcheeOutdoors.

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