Lambert completes comeback from cancer

He takes win in 3-mile walk; Philips, Neer tops-in 4-mile run.

Kokomo Tribune - Sunday, July 06, 2008

Tribune sportswriter

Sometimes a race is more than just a race for medals or trophies. It's a race for life.

In the tightly knit community of competitive walkers, Jerry Lambert's name was conspicuously missing from the front of the pack at the 2007 Haynes-Apperson Sports Festival 3-mile walk.

Although still a competitor a year ago, the perennial champion had a greater challenge to face - cancer.

Now in remission and "doing fine," Lambert returned to the top of the heap to capture the 31st running of the annual run/walk that concludes at Kautz Field.

"[Doctors] gave me three to six months to live and that was a year and a half ago," said Lambert, who estimated he's won the walk race "probably 12 times."

"Everything's fine," he said. "Since about four or five months ago I'm almost back to like I used to be."

Kokomo's Bryan Phillips was easily the overall winner of the 4-mile run Saturday, covering the city course in exactly 21 minutes. Former Western Middle School runner Waverly Neer of Russiaville defended her women's title in 23:55.

The 71-year-old Lambert said that during his battle he received plenty of encouragement from fellow walkers Mary Miller of Bunker Hill and Rick Spencer of Lucerne.

As the top female finisher Saturday, Miller was second overall, with Spencer third.

"He didn't know how ill he was," Miller said of Lambert. "Rick and I talked that night before they told Jerry the prognosis and we cried for an hour on the phone. We were right by his side."

Miller credits Lambert for getting her interested in walking, although initially "she did more talking than she did walking," according to Lambert.

"This young lady right here came [to the hospital] and we walked the halls and [later we] walked the malls and she got me through last year," Lambert said of Miller.

"He's like my adopted father, so it brings tears to my eyes when I think about how we went through the cancer together," Miller said. "He's awesome."

Phillips, a 2004 Kokomo High School graduate, was more than 30 seconds faster than runner-up Austin Young, a junior this fall at Western High School.

Phillips was third the last two years, trailing only three-time winner Kyle Walsh and two-time runner-up B.J. Needier of Warsaw.

Needler was fifth Saturday behind Phillips, Young, Western senior Corey Scott and Scott Col-ford of Logansport.

This fall Phillips is headed back to the University of Southern Indiana fora fifth year of college, planning to get his degree in exercise science.

"I still have some eligibility left, so I decided to use it" he said. "It should be exciting."

"I'll go from there. I might try to get into a masters program somewhere- I don't know; we'll see."

Neer led the women's field from start to finish but had plenty of competition from Heather Weber of Kokomo.

Although Neer's time was 27 seconds faster than least year's win, Weber was just five ticks in arrears at 24 minutes even.

"She is a great runner and a great person," the 15-year-old Neer said of Weber. It was really fun to run with her. She really pushed me [Saturday] and I appreciate that."

Weber, who was pregnant with her third child during last year's race, said it really wasn't that close.

"I don't think there was too much competition!" Weber said with a laugh. "She's 20 years my younger. There's no way I was catching her [Saturday]. She's an excellent runner."

After last year's Haynes-Apperson win, Neer enrolled at Westfield High School for her freshman year and already has two state championships to her credit - one team title with the Shamrocks in cross country and one as a member of the winning 4x800 relay team.

Neer was all-state in cross country and placed second behind Alex Banfich of the Culver Academies in the 3,200 meters.

"It's been absolutely great," Neer said of the transition to Westfield. "I really love my teammates, and of course I miss my teammates out at Western so much, but I still get to see them. I think it's the best of both worlds."

Young and Scott were two members of the Western boys cross country team that reached the New Prairie Semistate last season. The Panthers have their sights set higher in 2008.

"Right now we've just been putting in our base miles, trying to get up to about 60 miles a week or so - just trying to get strong for this season," said Young, who finished in 21:34. Scott was third in 21.41.

"This year we want to go to state," Young said. "We should have a pretty good chance to make it with our top five scorers back."