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.”