Boca Raton sixth-grader Bruce Steinberg and five-goal polo player Brandon Phillips have a lot in common. When Phillips was 14 years old, he developed a tumor that ended up being diagnosed as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. After just five months of chemotherapy, Phillips was cancer free. A year ago, Steinberg won his three-year battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Palm Beach chapter recently brought the pair together for a day to give Steinberg a chance to live out his dream of meeting a professional athlete.
“We knew that Brandon was a survivor of blood cancer,” LLS Palm Beach Executive Director Pam Payne said. “He wanted to partner with our local chapter of LLS. It was really important to Brandon to meet a child who had been in his shoes so they could connect.”
Phillips grew up in Canada and began playing polo professionally at 16 years old. He moved to Wellington in 1995 and has since won the USPA Silver Cup, the Gold Cup of the Americas and the C.V. Whitney Cup. He’s reached the finals of the U.S. Open once and semi-finals twice. He aspires to reach an eight-goal handicap, a distinction only a few members of the sport have achieved. While pursuing that objective in his professional life, he decided to reach out to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and forge a personal bond with someone who had also beat cancer.
“I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while,” Phillips said. “I’ve done one-day charity events, but this is the first time I’ve really gotten involved with an organization.”
On the morning of May 19, Steinberg met Phillips at his barn at Gulfstream Polo Club in Lake Worth. Phillips introduced his new friend to the polo ponies before heading to Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington for the USPA Eastern Challenge match. Although Phillips’ team lost the match with three seconds left on the clock, Steinberg enjoyed watching the high-energy sport.
“This was my first introduction to polo, but I’ve always loved riding horses,” Steinberg said. “One year at camp, I got to ride. It was only one activity out of the whole three weeks, but it really made an impression on me.”
Steinberg rode one of Phillips’ horses after the match. The polo experience clearly made an impression on the teenager. By the end of the day, he had already scheduled a lesson with Phillips for the following weekend.
Throughout the day, the pair bonded over a shared love for sports and horses, and a common triumph over a deadly disease.
“Beating cancer makes you stronger,” Phillips said. “When little things come up during the day that people stress out about, you think back to the bigger picture and you realize you’ve done something a lot more difficult than forgetting your car keys. It’s not the end of the world. It puts things in perspective.”
The sport of polo has historically embraced charitable causes and continued to display a sense of community responsibility, but then there are a number of causes that resonate within the polo community, and touch players’ lives. Such was the case of 5-goal polo star Brandon Phillips.
On Sunday, June 7, 1992, fourteen-year-old Brandon Philips awoke with severe swelling in his right leg. He had played a rugby match two days earlier and soccer the day before, and assumed that the swelling was sports-related. When the swelling failed to subside, a medical examination revealed a grapefruit-sized tumor wrapped around Phillips’ ureter (the tube that connects the kidneys with the bladder). Following a biopsy, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although his parents didn’t tell him at the time, the doctors gave him six weeks to live.
His physical strength and conditioning and his positive outlook allowed the soft-spoken Phillips to withstand months of intensive chemotherapy, and he returned to his school’s basketball team that November.
So when he was approached by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and asked if he would grant a young man’s request to meet a professional athlete he enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.
Bruce Steinberg was eight-years-old when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and for three years he missed a week of school every month so that he could receive treatment. During that time, Bruce remained an inspiration for his friends and family and a leader on his basketball team.
Bruce and his family met with Brandon Phillips at his barn the morning before a major polo match and watched him prepare his horses for the game, then off to the Grand Champions Polo Club where Phillips was playing for the Piaget polo team in the finals of the USPA Eastern Challenge.
Phillips had scored seven goals in the team’s previous game, lifting them to a 9-7 win, but the finals would prove to be much more difficult, and Bruce and his family cheered enthusiastically from the sidelines.
Phillips scored the first goal of the game and went on to score two more goals in the course of the game but an Audi goal in the final four seconds of play gave the game to Audi, 8-7.
“I loved it,” beamed Bruce Steinberg, following the game. “I loved the horses, the teamwork, everything,” he said.
As for the loss, Phillips just smiled.
“There’s always another day,” he said. “The secret is to never give up, never quit,” he offered. “It’s a lot like life,” he said, “you give it everything you’ve got, you never give up.”
And that’s the philosophy that brought him to where he is today, one of the game’s top players, and a big supporter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
“Approximately every four minutes someone new is diagnosed with blood cancer,” said Pamela Payne, the Executive Director of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Palm Beach County, “and approximately every 10 minutes, someone dies. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services,” she added. “Our mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families,” she added. “To see survivors like Brandon and Bruce continues to fuel hope for future victories.”
Bruce posed with the players, sat on a horse and awarded trophies at the end of the tournament, with Phillips seeing a bit of himself in the young man.
Never give up. Never quit.