From jeans to t-shirts to battling cancer, one local business owner has a fight in him that is unmatched. And it has helped him succeed on many fronts.
To say that Keith Phillips has a load of energy is an understatement.
"You can tell I'm not a calm person. It's just not in my nature. I'm hyper," says Keith.
To say he is passionate, also an understatement. That is probably part of the reason he's been so successful.
His story in Knoxville began when he came to the University of Tennessee to play baseball.
"I fell in love with Knoxville at that time. I finished playing sports and got a job at Calhouns on the River," says Keith.
And he met his match. "Kelby Shymlock was a manager and a bartender and we bartended together and had a great time," says Keith.
Kelby became his business partner for a company soon to be called Threds. It started with denim.
"That's how we started in 1994. We would drive to Florida and go through dumpsters, I mean containers and containers. I mean talking for two, three days going through containers buying used jeans. Places like Goodwill would get them and we'd buy them for $4 and come back and sell them for $12," says Keith.
It went great for a year, but then dropped off so they moved on to t-shirts.
"My uncle had a screen printing shop in his basement. He did it as a hobby. He called me one day and said, 'You guys want to buy some screen printing equipment.' We didn't know what it was," says Keith.
They bought it for $1000 dollars and now it's a booming business. Threds does t-shirts for just about any event or business you can imagine. Coca Cola, Verizon Wireless, McAlister's Deli, Sea Ray. They handle marketing too.
Needless to say, life was busy for Keith. "It was actually a gorgeous day. I was jamming to U2 in my car, driving and thinking what a great day it is," says Keith. "I'm driving and I find a lump in my throat."
Soon after he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Then came surgery. "I was cut from my ear to my throat," says Keith.
Radiation and chemotherapy were next, but through it all Keith remained strong. Now he's almost two years in remission and fighting for other cancer patients.
"I could be here for five hours telling you story after story from nurses, doctors, patients, friends that all made a difference in my fight against cancer. The thing that bothered me the most was how am I ever going to repay the amazing kindness that happened to me?"
But he's doing it, co-chairing this year's Buddy's Race Against Cancer with his wife, Jennifer. And the whole family is involved.
"Me and my friends made jewelry and sold it and we made $118 to donate," says Keith's daughter, Taylor.
Keith Phillips, a businessman, a fighter, a survivor and now the ultimate fundraiser.
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.
The Buddy's Race already has 20-percent more registered teams than last year. The race is coming up November 13th.