Most athletic feats get exaggerated over time. Perspectives skew as the clock spins. Each trip around the sun, times get faster, wins pile up, and legends are born. This is not one of those tales. This is the story of Phillip Armbrust. He had the fastest feet in Fayette County.
In the mid 1930s, while Jesse Owens was a track star for the Buckeyes, Ohio University had their own star by the name of Elden Armbrust. Elden didn’t get the accolades of Owens, nor did he ever stare Hitler down at the Olympics, but he had a great athletic resume. He had an even better nickname. He was called Half-Brother to the Wind. Not only did he star on the cinder track, he played so well against the Navy Midshipmen football team of 1932, the headlines read Army beats Navy. Army was his other nickname. Elden was elected to the Ohio University Hall of Fame in 1990.
After graduating, Elden settled down in Washington Court House and started a family. He passed down his breezy genetics to his son Phillip.
I met Phil about a year ago in his pick-up truck at the Carnegie Public Library. We instantly bonded. He began to tell me stories about his life, his triumphs, and his defeats. He shared life secrets, and opened his heart to a guy that would just listen. Each story he told had a certain Forest Gump feeling to it. They couldn’t be real, could they? Time and time again, his stories were proven through encounters with people that were there, and eventually, when he found it, a scrapbook.
When he handed me the scrapbook, I wasn’t sure what to think. There were articles and ribbons unorganized, and falling to the floor. As his twisted body bent over to pick up the fragmented pieces of newsprint, I began to scan the articles, glancing at the pictures. The man I know was deformed from a motorcycle accident. He didn’t complain about the pain, but it was ever present. He once said his muscles were twisted in knots and coated in scar tissue. He asked me to place my hand next to his hip where a normal person would have muscle, he had a void. It was empty there. He constantly fiddled with it trying to pull the muscle back into place. He tried to soothe the pain. It didn’t happen.
I always teased him that he looked like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. His white hair was always out of place, and sometimes he said “1.21 gigawatts” to humor me. Inside the scrapbook, there were not pictures of a Delorean, a flux capacitor, or Marty McFly. There were pictures of a man who looked similar to a young Nicholas Cage crossing the finish line with flailing arms. His stories were true. They hadn’t changed over time. He had the fastest feet in Fayette County, and according to his 1960s ribbons, the fastest feet in the SCOL.
I’ve been told that he had an unorthodox style. I’ve been told that he would have knocked out anyone running next to him with his flailing arms. It never happened though. When Phil crossed the finish line, he was alone.
Phil is a self-proclaimed pacifist. When his football coach made him tackle another player, he didn’t like it. This Army never went on to beat Navy. He quit the football team before he had his mouthpiece made. Though he didn’t share the gridiron with his father, he did share the cinder track. Phillip Armbrust was half-nephew to the wind, after all.