Meet Some of Trinity College’s Faculty and Staff Athletes

Professors, Writer, Lecturer, and Librarian Share Stories of Physical Achievements

Hartford, Connecticut, October 9, 2015 There is much more going on in the lives of Trinity College’s high-achieving scholars, teachers, and staff members than what students and colleagues see in the office or the classroom. These men and women are also athletes whose physical feats include everything from years of casual tennis to grueling 140.6-mile Ironman Triathlons. 

Below, some of Trinity’s staff and faculty athletes – from a librarian who takes a two-hour bike ride in the cold pre-dawn hours to a history professor who once tackled an NFL legend – share their inspirational stories about striving for a perfect balance of mind and body.


Scott Gac, associate professor of history and American studies Ironman Triathlon

Henry DePhillips, Jr. P’82, ’83, ’88, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, emeritus Tennis

Lucy Ferriss, writer-in-residenceTennis

Rob Walsh, social sciences librarianCycling

Borden Painter, Jr. ’58, H’95, professor of history, emeritusFootball

Barry Schaller, visiting lecturer in public policy and law Running, Swimming

 

Scott Gac – Ironman Triathlon

Scott Gac, associate professor of history and American studies, as well as undergraduate and graduate director of American studies, believes that being an athlete gives him more endurance to teach courses at Trinity College. And after completing more than a dozen 140.6-mile Ironman Triathlons, Gac knows a thing or two about endurance. The notoriously challenging Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.2-mile run, completed in that order without any breaks in between.

After putting himself through graduate school as a professional musician, Gac realized he didn’t have enough time to be both a professional musician and a professional historian. “When I gave up being a musician, I started to take up running, and I really liked it,” he said. He became a running coach but found himself injured often, and he began spending a lot of time in the pool or on a bike when recovering.

Gac competed in his first triathlon in the 2000 Pan American Championships, held in Cuba. “I fell in love with the sport and never turned back,” he said. As an amateur, he made the U.S. long-course national team in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

In 2008, feeling like he was running out of challenges, Gac completed his first Ironman race. “The run is always the hardest section,” he said. “By then it’s the hottest part of the day, you start to get tired. … You start grabbing ice every mile, running with ice in your left hand to cool the blood circulating closest to your heart.”

Now, Gac is considered an Ironman All-World Silver Athlete, ranked among the top 5 percent of Ironman competitors in the world in his age group. “I’ve been a USA Triathlon All-American many times over the years. I’m probably going up to Gold, which is the top 3 percent,” Gac said. He works with professional coaches in Massachusetts and has had a variety of sponsors over the years. His wife has completed many triathlons as well, but Gac said she refuses to do an Ironman race. 

During his heaviest weeks of training, Gac can devote 25 hours or more to his sport. “I’ll get up early and get in the pool or go for a run,” Gac said. “I tend only to race Ironman distance in the summer, when my schedule is a little more flexible.” Gac competed in Canada just before the semester began, and he is already signed up for two more Ironman races next year, in Texas and New York.

“I think in the end it makes me a better colleague and teacher because I get out all my competitiveness in this realm. I can be more relaxed and just a nicer person because of it,” Gac said. “It does provide a structure that helps me orient myself in my day. Things can’t get away from me because there isn’t enough time for things to get away.”


 

Henry DePhillips, Jr. P’82, ’83, ’88 – Tennis

Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Henry DePhillips, Jr. P’82, ’83, ’88 is so dedicated to tennis that he keeps his racquets behind his office door and will hit the court at Ferris Athletic Center whenever somebody invites him to play. “I’m never without a racquet, and I’m never without a pair of sneakers,” DePhillips said.


Henry DePhillips (right) with a Trinity College women's tennis team.
When he was young, DePhillips went to a summer camp in New Hampshire. “That was where I learned just about every skill that I have in any sport,” he said. After playing on his high school golf team, DePhillips played some tennis in college, but only casually. He continued to golf throughout graduate school, but after he got his job at Trinity in 1963, he found he had less time for golf as he became more involved with his work. “I thought, ‘I should play tennis, because I can play tennis at lunchtime,’ ” DePhillips said. He got a group of players together on campus a few times a week and also joined a tennis team in his hometown of Wethersfield.

By 1982, the coach of the women’s tennis team found out about his interest in tennis. “She asked if I would be her assistant,” DePhillips said. “I said, ‘No, I’m not going to be an assistant coach, but I will be an assistant to the coach.’ I made that distinction so I didn’t have to have a formal relationship with the Physical Education Department.”

That arrangement continued for 23 years. “I went down and worked out with the women,” DePhillips said. “It was good for them, I hope, and it was good for me – it kept my game sharp.”

By 2005, sports were becoming more formalized at Trinity, and the teams needed more assistance to stay competitive, so assistant coaches and faculty liaisons became commonplace. “I was coming up to my late 60s and thought, ‘Can I really stay up with these kids?’ And the answer was, pretty much, no,” DePhillips said.

But that didn’t mark the end of DePhillips’s long relationship with the sport. “I started in a group in Wethersfield in the 1970s, and that group is still ongoing,” he said. “We play at least every Saturday.” He is also a member of a tennis club in Newington.

“Tennis has been a major part of my life. My kids play tennis, my wife plays tennis,” DePhillips said. He even takes on challenges from students. “Now that I’m getting on in years, as they say, there aren’t many students who can’t beat me. But I’m in it for the love of the game,” he said. “The competition is great, but for me, it’s just such a pleasure to be out there. I don’t care whether I win 6-love or lose 6-love. It’s all the same to me. All I want is to be able to say I tried my hardest and I did my best, and I had a really good time doing it.”

DePhillips said he is “mostly retired” from teaching now but still pursues his work and research as a conservation scientist, preserving works of art. Over the years, he has found that there is a relationship between art and tennis. “It’s the beauty of it,” he said. “What I find most satisfying in tennis is really the aesthetic aspects of it. To see a ball well struck is a thing of beauty in my mind. And when I’m working on a sample from a Monet or something like that, I just love to see the beauty that the artist has put together in order to manufacture the piece that I am privileged to work with.”

He has done research and taught courses in Rome, but DePhillips said he has not yet had the chance to play tennis in Italy, where they have red clay courts – like those on which he first learned to play at summer camp in New Hampshire. “I could look at it as a bookend,” he said, “but maybe I’m not ready to bookend my life just yet.”

 

Lucy Ferriss – Tennis

Trinity College writer-in-residence Lucy Ferriss never intended to become so skilled at tennis, but her family has helped shape her into a player with a mean spin and a Zen-like philosophy.

“I grew up playing tennis in the park with my sister and brother,” Ferriss said. “I had an aunt who played tennis quite fiercely. She was the only one who taught any of us.” She still plays the “old-fashioned” way her Aunt Ruth taught her, with a large swing that uses up a lot of energy. 

Ferriss dabbled in tennis a bit during her school years, but, she said, “I was too skinny in high school and college to get onto any athletic team. I had no muscles.”

When her older son was 9 and her younger son was 7, the older boy wanted to learn how to play tennis. “I said, ‘Okay, but if you get frustrated and throw your racquet, then we’re going to stop,’ ” Ferriss said. Inevitably, he soon threw the racquet down on the court. “But then his younger brother, who had been shagging balls, said, ‘Mommy, I won’t throw the racquet.’ ” That son eventually became a nationally ranked United States Tennis Association (USTA) tennis player.

“We couldn’t really afford a coach, so he wanted me to be his coach,” Ferriss said. “I spent probably four or five years just hitting with my kid, then he got too good for me.” During that stretch of time, to her amazement, Ferriss’s skills had also greatly improved. “In trying to coach him, as he got better and better, I had to keep up with him and keep hitting cross court to a specific spot. I had actually become a decent player,” she said.

Ferriss now plays tennis about three times a week. “When I’m here in Hartford, I live a mile from the Hartford Tennis Club, in West Hartford,” she said. She also plays a lot in the Berkshires during the summer.

She also plays on three USTA teams out of Hartford, with skill ratings of 3.5. She plays doubles on a 55-and-over senior team and singles on an 18-and-over team, and she plays on a mixed doubles team. “Although my 18-and-over team, where I play first singles, did not prevail in districts this year, my senior team, where I play first doubles, made it to the finals,” Ferriss said.

For Ferriss, loving the competition does not mean obsessing over a record of wins and losses. “I play tennis totally to de-stress,” she said. “For me, it’s very Zen-like. Tennis is a very fast game, but if you actually stop to think what you want to do with this ball, you screw up.”

That awareness of the need to not think too much about her play has led Ferriss to a personal tennis mantra. “There are only two thoughts I should really have: See the ball; hit the ball.” She then trusts her body and her instincts to do the right thing. “For me, that’s very meditative. None of my thoughts, my worries about work, or anything can enter my head. The ball keeps coming back. I find that very relaxing. I think I’m pretty high-strung otherwise, but on the tennis court? Never.”

Ferriss has found that a similar focus helps with her creative writing process. “If I’m writing well, I’m not anxious about where this is taking the story,” she said. “All that’s happening is that I’m in whatever moment I’m creating. It’s absolutely the same sort of being present in the moment, not overthinking it or thinking too far ahead.”

 

Rob Walsh – Cycling

Social sciences librarian Rob Walsh was not competitive as a kid and wasn’t very good at sports. Today, he’s a bicycle racer who competes in events held by USA Cycling across the region.

“When I first got into cycling, I never thought I’d be racing,” Walsh said. “It just evolved.” About five years ago Walsh wanted a lifestyle change – motivated in part by a desire to be more active with his children – and took up cycling. “I ended up losing 80 pounds,” he said.

Two years ago, when his weekly group rides were no longer enough to satisfy him, Walsh decided to take his athletic pursuits to the next level by competing in road races. “I had this level of fitness and this desire to compete, so I wanted to do something with it,” he said.

He now trains with a private coach and is on a racing team sponsored by Cycling Concepts in Glastonbury. “We identify our best chance to win and get that person to the front,” Walsh said. “Cycling is all about using energy at the right time. It’s not about using the most energy but about who puts it out at the right time.”

The road races in which Walsh competes feature courses that are generally between 60 and 100 miles long. He recently completed the Black Fly Challenge in Indian Lake, New York, which was his first mountain bike race. He won his age and experience category, beating the previous year’s winning time by 16 minutes.

His favorite moment of the season came back in April, when he finished the Tour of the Battenkill in New York. “It’s supposedly America’s hardest one-day race,” Walsh said. “It’s probably the biggest pro-am race in America. About 2,500 people register for a very challenging 67-mile course. I finished in the top 50 percent, which, for my first time, is good. It is a very demanding, punishing course.”

For Walsh, the challenge is a big part of the appeal. “It demands so much,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but there’s so much sacrifice. I have three kids, and the only time I can really train most of the year is about 5:30 in the morning, doing a two-hour session, sometimes in the pitch black, sometimes in the cold, in the rain. But by 7:30 you say, ‘I just did that, and I feel great.’ To take all that training and see how you do against other competitive athletes, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”

Walsh also hits the trail with his family. “We will go out on the Air Line Trail, or we’ll ride the Rails-to-Trails. … But the hardest thing is trying to enjoy it after training and competing all season.” Still, Walsh said that his love for the sport keeps him getting back on the bike day after day, and he knows there’s a lesson in that.

“Two or three years ago, I wasn’t able to do this,” Walsh said. “I hope some of the dedication wears off on my children and that they see the determination and the commitment, whether they apply it to school or to a sport.”

 

Borden Painter, Jr. ’58, H’95 – Football

Professor of History, Emeritus, Borden Painter, Jr. ’58, H’95 may no longer be an active athlete, but he still loves to regale people with the story of the day he tackled former Cleveland Browns star Jim Brown when they were both playing football at Manhasset High School in New York.


Borden Painter, Jr. '58, H'95 (bottom row, fifth from left) with Trinity College's 1956-57 football team.

 “The Manhasset High School football team held a scrimmage late one afternoon in late October of 1951, my sophomore year,” Painter said. “At quarter of 6, it was dark, since we had turned the clocks back, and we didn’t have any artificial lighting.”

Painter held the position of second-string center. “I got away with it even though I weighed only 165 pounds,” he said, “but that was not unusual in those days when high school linemen rarely came in over 200 pounds.”

The second-stringers were playing defense against a formidable varsity squad led by fullback “Jimmy” Brown. “Brown had both speed and size, standing over 6 feet and even as a high school junior weighing in at about 195,” Painter said. “He already had a reputation as a top athlete in football, track, baseball, basketball, and lacrosse, which was considered by some to be his best sport.

“On this particular play, the quarterback handed the ball off to Brown, who charged up the middle directly at me,” Painter said. “Somehow first-string center Bruce Medd failed to get me out of the way, and I encountered Brown and brought him down! Coach Ed Walsh immediately demoted Medd to our side of the ball and put me with the varsity for the remainder of the scrimmage.”

Today, Painter gives as much credit to the darkness of the late hour as he does to his own athletic prowess. “I got credit for tackling Jimmy Brown, but it could have been he tripped over me and never saw me,” Painter said. “Medd had failed to move me over, so there I was just groveling on the ground. I could see Brown coming, but I think he didn’t see me.”

The next year, Medd was knocked out early for the season, so Painter played first-string with Brown on Manhasset’s undefeated 1952 team. “The next year we only lost one game, even with Brown gone off to Syracuse and fame as an All-American and then a record-setting career in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns,” Painter said. “We all knew how great he was, but who knew he was going to go on to become a national football figure?”

In 2002, Brown was named by Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever.

Painter – who joked that he will be remembered by historians as the man who once tackled Jim Brown – went on to play third-string guard for Trinity College for a few years. He graduated in 1958, became a member of the Trinity faculty in 1964, taught English and European history, and later served as the dean of the faculty and interim president before retiring in 2004.

 

Barry Schaller – Running, Swimming

After playing many different sports in neighborhood sandlots, recreation departments, high school, and college, the Honorable Barry Schaller – a visiting lecturer in public policy and law at Trinity College – took up running later in life as a way to stay in shape. The Connecticut Appellate Court judge said, “I realized as I began to have children, I wanted to be in shape so I could do things with them, so I got into running. It was the easiest way to get in shape.” Today, Schaller is turning to exercise to help him stay strong following a shocking diagnosis of leukemia.

Schaller said he has always enjoyed physical games and sports, and he has learned to love how it feels to run. “I did get attached to it and enjoyed the feel of it. I never mask my body’s response by listening to news or music when I do any sports. I like to feel and experience it,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say that I’m a natural runner by any means.”

He has competed in hundreds of races over the course of 50 years. “I probably did about four to five running races a year in my 30s, 40s, and 50s,” Schaller said. “I found that I developed joint pain in one knee, so I had to cut it back and be careful with that. But as I got over 60 and the competition dropped away, I began to win my age category.”

When he was in his mid-60s, Schaller was talked into trying a minisprint triathlon. “I got to enjoy it, so I probably did a dozen or a dozen and a half,” he said. A bike accident in 2009 that left him with a shoulder injury convinced Schaller to give up cycling and focus more on swimming instead. “My wife and I swim in Long Island Sound every day in the summer, and I join the Y for the winter,” he said. “I enjoy the swimming even more than the running now.” Most recently, Schaller has completed some obstacle races for charity organizations, and he hopes to do more this fall.

The leukemia diagnosis about five months ago came out of nowhere. “It was a routine blood test,” Schaller said. “I felt fine, maybe just a little tired.” Dealing with the rare form of leukemia and its ongoing treatment has been a big adjustment. “The doctors encourage me to stay active, so I swim every day for 40 or 45 minutes with my wife,” he said. “I can run for 25 minutes, but it’s not as much fun as before. My body doesn’t respond to that the way it did.”

Schaller now uses his exercise routines to boost his mood and build his strength. “It’s uplifting. I definitely think it’s a good element in getting better, but it’s not a solution,” he said. “I’m not going to give up vigorous exercise until I have to, if it comes to that. The better shape you’re in, the better you can withstand both disease and treatment.”

This summer, as he focused on his health, Schaller got a surprise from his Supreme Court and Appellate Court colleagues: the trophy for the annual softball game between the courts will now be called The Schaller Cup, in honor of his long history of supporting the game and participating in it as a member of both courts.

“The cup came as a big surprise to me,” Schaller said. “I was very impressed with that. I’ve been playing in that game and have helped organize it for 25 years.”

Athletics will always be part of Schaller’s personal regimen and something that brings him joy. “I’ve stopped playing tennis and stopped competitive sports,” he said. “Now I’m in a race wherein I’m just competing with my body to finish.”