Philip Landrum has been raised by his mother, Dorothy, with the assurance there is no way he can lose.
It’s not intended in a braggadocios way, although Philip has become quite the showman during his races this season as he ascended to the title of “Fastest Man in Kansas” — a three-time champion in front of his largest audience at the state track meet on Saturday at Cessna Stadium.
Dorothy’s message is if you keep fighting and keep showing up, then there is no way you can lose. It has shaped how Philip sees the world, as he watches his mother battle against metastatic – or inoperable — breast cancer.
No, there is no losing allowed in the Landrum household.
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“Cancer will never beat me,” Dorothy said. “Every day I’m here on Earth, then I win. That’s why I always tell Philip, ‘Just show up and there’s no way to lose.’ ”
And there was no losing on Saturday, either.
Crowds tend to gravitate toward the sprinters and Philip was the perfect protagonist. He ran fast times – 10.65 seconds in the 100 meters and 21.73 in the 200 – and completed a dazzling comeback to lift the South 400 relay to a gold medal in 42.21 after being fifth when receiving the baton.
Landrum had never performed so eloquently or made it look so effortless, so where did he get the audacity for his magnum opus on Saturday?
“My mother always told me I work hard and show up, then I can’t lose,” Philip said. “I learned that from her and she’s the strongest person I know. She taught me how to fight.”
“It’s hard to hold the tears back”
Sometimes Dorothy feels like she takes a pill for everything. A pill to go to sleep. A pill to feel better. A pill to numb the pain.
Dorothy, 40, is undergoing radiation treatments. She wears a bandana now, her blonde hair gone. Yet she has negotiated with her doctors to make it to all nine of Philip’s track meets, including last week’s regional meet in Dodge City.
“This is my day off from cancer,” Dorothy said. “When I’m watching Philip run, it’s like I don’t have cancer anymore. I fight cancer six days a week, so this is my one day not to be sick.”
A day before Philip’s season comes to a close, she pauses and wonders about the day after.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I don’t think anybody realizes how therapeutic this is for me.”
South coach Cody Dickman has had an up-close view of the Landrum family this season. He has watched a mother sapped of her strength be fulfilled by her son’s accomplishments and a 17-year-old boy run his way to three state championships empowered by his mother.
“It really does make you believe that love can conquer all,” Dickman said. “When that love and that power exists, it’s transcendent. It can cut across anything. It’s amazing how far it can take you and you can see it between those two.”
Philip usually is too embarrassed to head to the stands immediately following one of his victories. After all, he doesn’t like crying in front of other people.
“It’s hard to hold the tears back,” Philip said. “I always get super emotional.”
On Saturday, Philip began to well up when he saw Dorothy charging toward him on the concourse following his first victory in the 100.
But no tears.
“This was one big emotional journey for me,” Philip said after the embrace. “I really don’t like crying in front of people, so I’m pretty good at holding it in.”
‘I wrote it on my wall’
Not very long ago, Philip Landrum was just another guy on the track.
He thought he was fast, but found out quickly he was not track fast. That’s easy to forget now that Landrum is a top sprinter, but Dickman never does.
“Phil has got the grit and determination that not a lot of athletes have,” Dickman said. “They may say they want to win, but what are they doing to back that up? Phil has put in the work and he truly wants to be great.”
Landrum began emulating the best sprinters in the state. He studied film on Newton’s Kade Remsberg, who ran the fastest times at the state meet in 2015 to sweep the 5A sprints.
Last season saw Landrum qualify for state in both the 100 and 200, but he failed to make the impact he wanted with a lone fifth-place medal. Landrum was so motivated to do better he scrawled the following on his wall in pen:
“I’m going to win state this year!!! 2016-17 #1”
Every day Landrum would come home from a workout or a practice and look at the scribbling on his wall. Because he wrote it in ink, somehow that made it seem real to Landrum.
There was no one meet, no week, no month Landrum can look back on and say, ‘This is why I became a state champion.’ It became a mentality and it became a year-long transformation in Landrum.
“I’ve always wanted to be the kid with the fastest times in the state with the big name and the kid that everyone remembers,” Philip said. “I want to be that dude that no one wants to race because they’re scared they’re going to lose. I wanted so bad to be a state champion and I just kept working until I was.”
On Saturday, Landrum solidified himself as that sprinter.
‘I was on top of the world with my best friend’
By the third championship, Dorothy, decked in her pink camouflage bandana and Philip Landrum shirt, was hysterical.
“I hugged a stranger,” Dorothy says. “I started crying. Those people just hugged me back. I’m sure they thought I was a crazy person. I’m so proud of what he’s overcome. He’s been through it this year. He’s seen me and he didn’t know if everything was going to be OK, but he kept pushing. He just kept pushing.”
Nearly everyone was in tears when Landrum and teammate Deron Dudley, a sophomore who Philip has taken under his wing this season, finished first and second. After the group was done taking their picture on the podium, Landrum pulled Dudley on top with him and pulled him in for a hug as they both raised their index fingers.
“I felt like I was on top of the world with my best friend, my brother, Phil Landrum,” Dudley said. “I’ve been through so much with him. I just wanted to break down and cry. I’m pretty sure I will when I get home.”
Philip said after it was all over he still couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real to him what he had just accomplished.
But to Dorothy, this was all very real and she didn’t want it to end.
“This happiness and this joy and this success he’s feeling right now makes me feel so good,” Dorothy said. “He’s helped me out so much through this whole thing. I’m so blessed.
“Everyone keeps asking me how I’m feeling today. I might feel it tomorrow, but today I’m not sick. I’m happy that my boy is a champion.”