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Social Impact Heroes: How Polo star and cancer survivor Brandon Phillips is helping to battle pediatric cancer

I want everyone to know the impact a cancer diagnosis has on the entire family, not just the child. It’s not only the financial toll the treatment takes on the family, but the time spent away from the home and the division of the family that takes a toll. Simple needs go unmet and we […]


I want everyone to know the impact a cancer diagnosis has on the entire family, not just the child. It’s not only the financial toll the treatment takes on the family, but the time spent away from the home and the division of the family that takes a toll. Simple needs go unmet and we want to see all of those needs met. Something as simple as making sure the parent who is with the child at the hospital gets a warm meal is where we can make a difference. It’s not about giving a lot to just one but giving a lot to many.


As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Phillips. During his almost 20 years as a professional polo player and 5-goal handicap, Brandon Phillips has captured some of the sport’s most coveted trophies. However, even though he has realized his dream to play at the top of his sport of polo, it is not the biggest goal he has achieved. Surviving stage four lymphoma has been his greatest accomplishment. Brandon has been riding horses since he was 18 months old and at 11 played his first match at the Toronto Polo Club, becoming the youngest player there at that time. Everything seemed to be falling into place for Brandon until the day he woke up with severe swelling and an aching pain in his right leg. Twenty-four hours later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Though Brandon’s parents did not tell him at the time, his doctors gave him six weeks to live. Brandon was 14 years old. Brandon endured five grueling months of intensive chemotherapy sessions but never lost his spirit and never accepted death as an option. Brandon beat the odds and went into remission. Recovery meant returning to school and friends, but also an altered outlook that would change the course of his life forever. Those months spent in a hospital bed fighting for his life made Brandon realize how previous each moment is. Once he recovered, he made sure not to take anything for granted and was thankful for every new day. He vowed to dedicate his life to doing what he loved — playing polo. Since then, Brandon has established himself as one of the world’s most talented polo players. With all his professional success, Brandon continues to remember the catalyst that changed the course of his life. He strives to be a role model on and off the field by dedicating much of his time to philanthropy by supporting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. While his dream is to one day win the US Open, his most important goal is a world without cancer.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Brandon! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Having survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a child gave me a different perspective on life as I got older. After finishing five months of grueling cancer treatments I had put the memories of my journey away and just wanted to move on. As I got older, I realized it was time for me to start giving back so other families wouldn’t have to endure what my family endured. The opportunity presented itself and I was all in.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As we have grown over the years and developed our brand I have gotten to know so many amazing people. Early on I had an opportunity to spend a day with a teenager who was going through treatment. We set up a day where he could experience “A day in the life of a professional polo player”. Although the day was all about him, at the end of the day I felt like it was for me. Spending that time with him made me remember how important it is to have a strong support system and how important having someone to talk to who you can 100% relate to. I was able to be that person on that day and have continued to be. I knew at that moment I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Fortunately we haven’t had any real setbacks, but check back with me in a month or so!

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

By funding programs to assist pediatric cancer patients and their families we’re able to bring families together. If we can afford them one minute, one hour or one day of no cancer we’ve done what we’ve set out to do. In our local community we’ve been able to bring athletes from the numerous equestrian disciplines together to support each other and our mission which in turn is increasing our visibility and creating awareness for our cause not only locally, but nationally.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

Our success has been hinged on the people involved with us. Our first year was a success and was driven by a family who I have been friends with for a long time. The father is a blood cancer survivor and was more than happy to help us get this off the ground. I then had the pleasure of sharing my story with another friend/fellow athlete who had lost her sister to leukemia. She jumped in with both feet and has been instrumental in our growth. She is 100% committed and works tirelessly to ensure we create a memorable event year after year. PJ Rizvi, we couldn’t do this without you!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Create awareness — there is so much to be told
  2. Media coverage — to further create awareness and educate the community on how they can help
  3. Get involved — it does take a village. Every penny counts and as valuable is people’s time.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The best leaders lead by example. It takes a strong leader to keep the excitement and momentum moving forward. It must come from the top.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. People saying they’ll help and actually helping are two different things. I’ve learned the hard way to not put all my eggs in one basket.
  2. It really is hard to give away money. It’s so important to know where your money is going and that it’s being used in the best way. There are so many variables to consider I wasn’t aware of.
  3. Our goal is to be a national brand, but we need to be experts in our backyard first. Growth will come gradually and I need to remember to take small steps before taking a leap.
  4. Everybody has a cause. Although this foundation is very important and personal, there are so many other non-profits out there. In creating our team it’s been a struggle to find people who aren’t already a part of another organization or who aren’t funding another cause. It wouldn’t have stopped me but I would have approached things differently.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want everyone to know the impact a cancer diagnosis has on the entire family, not just the child. It’s not only the financial toll the treatment takes on the family, but the time spent away from the home and the division of the family that takes a toll. Simple needs go unmet and we want to see all of those needs met. Something as simple as making sure the parent who is with the child at the hospital gets a warm meal is where we can make a difference. It’s not about giving a lot to just one but giving a lot to many.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing especially when the game is your life”. I was asked to deliver a speech the year after I was diagnosed at a school sports banquet. It was relevant in my life because I had just beat cancer and had to make winning everything to survive.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Jeff Gordon. He has been able to use his success on the racetrack to make a difference in his community. He has aligned with one of the leading healthcare systems in the nation and is directly impacting kids with cancer and their families by funding vital research to help find a cure for pediatric blood cancers. I hope to use my success on and off the field in the same way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram, @bphillips19 or read more about my story and learn more about our foundation at www.poloforlife.org.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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