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VOL. 131 | NO. 106 | Friday, May 27, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Cyclist Lucky – And Better Than Ever

By Don Wade

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Phillip Poux smiles a lot these days. He laughs a lot and practically gushes about the Wolf River Greenway and the joy of riding his road bike in a safe and scenic environment.

He even says he wishes that he and wife Rhonda had moved to Memphis sooner.

But mainly, it’s good that Poux didn’t arrive later.

“I count my blessings every bloody day,” he said.

Poux is 59 years old, director of stewardship for Ducks Unlimited, and an avid cyclist. He has kept in shape his whole life, running track and swimming while in high school back in Pennsylvania, and happily rolling along on his bicycle ever since.

Today he is a 6-foot-2, 192-pound gray-haired portrait in fitness, the kind of guy that can enjoy a couple of beers with friends after a long ride and still have a physique as lean as a laser.

So, yes, he would have looked really good in his casket.

“They said you’re lucky you’re not dead,” Poux said, the “they” in this case being Memphis doctors.

To understand what might have happened to Phillip Poux, we must revisit some tragic sports history. It was 26 years ago that Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers collapsed on the court during a game. He died a short time later and the medical examiner’s report said Gathers’ death came from a heart muscle disorder called cardiomyopathy.

Gathers had been diagnosed after collapsing during an earlier game and been prescribed heart medication. But that medication made Gathers sluggish, robbed him of his gifts on the court. He quit taking the medicine.

Poux was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy a few months ago. An employee of Ducks Unlimited for 24 years, he has worked all over the country and only recently came to the headquarters here.

At least four previous physicians missed Poux’s condition. But while undergoing a physical in Memphis, a doctor told him he had a heart murmur and ordered an electrocardiogram.

“A doctor that knows his stethoscope will find it,” Poux said. “He’ll find the murmur. And the echocardiogram, it’s like watching TV, like watching ‘Game of Thrones.’ It’s right there in front of you. But if they don’t hear (the murmur first), chances are they miss it totally.”

In simple terms, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick and that thickness in turn can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Many people have it and display no symptoms.

“It’s at the higher heart rates that it’s really dangerous,” said Poux, who in retrospect remembers chest pains that he and doctors wrote off to heartburn.

He underwent open heart surgery in February, which he likens to a car engine getting in an overhaul from a skilled mechanic. Now, he’s back on his bike and pedaling faster than ever.

In 2015, over about 75 rides and before he knew he had this condition, Poux kept a log and averaged 12.69 miles per hour. In two long rides this year, he is averaging 18 miles per hour.

“To be able to finish a steep climb and still have enough gumption left instead of being physically spent … pretty amazing,” he said.

Poux and his son Jason, 27, have formed a two-man team, Graybar Ghost Riders, to raise money for the Wolf River Conservancy’s 10th annual Cycle the Greenway event on June 4. They’re nearing $1,000 and aiming for $2,500. Anyone wishing to donate to them, or another team or rider, can do so at wolfriver.org.

Cardiomyopathy is often inherited, but Jason and Poux’s older son, Ryan, have been checked out and they’re fine.

Phillip Poux is fine, too. He even survived getting struck by a car three years ago while riding a narrow road in Pennsylvania; he did suffer a concussion and break his collarbone.

So as he inches toward age 60, he now feels a little like Superman. Or at least like a young buck again.

“I hate to talk like that, but yeah,” he said, laughing. “Stamina and all that. Cialis or some damn fool thing.”

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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