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Skiing Her Way Into Her 74th Birthday : Phyllis Fabian

story by Lindsey Lenoir
photos by Susan DeLoach
Phyllis DeLoach Fabian has a birthday coming up and she plans on celebrating in somewhat of an unconventional way. This year will mark her 24th consecutive year of strapping on a life vest, water ski, and her trusty double-handled rope to get out on the river and celebrate another year of life and health; a subject that is very important to her. “I still exercise, I firmly believe that is how I’ve been able to continue this every year, by keeping moving.”
Born right here on Beaufort’s very own Parris Island, on July 5, 1944, Phyllis lived in Beaufort with her parents and siblings until she was in the first grade. The family moved away for a few years but eventually returned to the Beaufort Waterfront. “My father was in the United States Marine Corps at that point and we ended up leaving Beaufort when I was in the first grade. One of the places we lived during that time was Florida. That is where my father taught us how to ski.”  Her father always loved boating, fishing and skiing, and when she was around nine years old, he taught his children how to ski. In 1955, the family moved back to Beaufort. Shortly after Phyllis’ father would deploy and then return home where he was assigned to the newly dedicated Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as its first Sgt. Major. Phyllis remembers how they would take the boat out, she and her sister would practice skiing, and even attempt stunts.
At the time, the Beaufort Ski Club was the Water Festivals only ski show. They would pull stunts including 2, 3, and some 5-person pyramids. She and her sister began training and performing with the ski club in 1960. Phyllis’ father had been working with the ski club for a few years.  “Daddy knew people in the Beaufort Ski Club and he would often times pull some of the skiers and pyramids with his boat because he had a pretty good size boat.” She chuckles, “You know, we didn’t exactly do it like the professionals today build pyramids. I saw one person flip a person up on shoulders and then back down… when I was skiing we built a pyramid by climbing on each other.. and how we got down…oh goodness! 1…2…3… the bottom skiers went left, the other went right and you just jumped in the water…it was a lot of fun though!”
Phyllis recalls, “I was in the club at only 16 and 17, and in high school at the time. I was in the band and a majorette, but when I graduated high school water skiing stayed with me.”
It took a lot of time and practice for Phyllis and her sister to master many of the stunts they performed. Her favorite stunt, “…was probably the pyramid.” Although she prefers to slalom now, that wasn’t always the case. “I got a couple of trophies when I was around 17, one of those was skiing a slalom course. I was talked into competing and ended up getting 3rd place in the event, but when I was first on the team I couldn’t slalom. In the club everybody could get up on one ski but not Phyllis! One time the team had to get back to another area in a hurry and I only had one ski and I said, “you know I can’t get up on one ski!” and they said, “Well, you’re just going to have to!”  So, they threw out a double handled rope that was brand new and hadn’t been tied up. “I put the ski between the two ropes holding the handles which seemed pretty balanced, and I pulled it off so now that’s the only way I can get up on one ski is by using that double handled technique.”
“The last year I was with the ski team was 1961…” Phyllis would graduate from Beaufort High School in 1962 and begin a career working at the Port Royal docks in the accounting department. That is where she met her husband, Robert C. “Bob” Fabian. The young couple would marry in 1966. “My husband loved boating too. He loved fishing and did some skiing.” Having served in the United States Army and the Air Force before they met, Bob  would eventually go on to work with the SC Air National Guard. “We moved around a good bit after we got married. We ended up moving back to Beaufort in 1993.”
The couple moved away for a while during Bob’s career as a plant manager and “overall troubleshooter” with Lifetime Doors, Inc. “ We have had quite a few moves,” Phyllis lamented, “18 times, 18 moves… SC, TX, CA, IL, FL, MS, then back to SC.” They would frequently come back to Beaufort on the weekends and go out skiing. “The waterfront was so different then, we would ski near the sand bar but there weren’t nearly as many boats and there was no waterfront park at the time. It seemed like every time we came home something new was being built.” Beaufort would continue to grow and change over the 26 ½ years that they lived away. They returned in 1993 right before Phyllis’ 49th birthday. “My husband had decided that we needed to get a boat. He loved fishing. He came to me and said, let’s get a boat and then take you out on your 50th birthday and see if you can still ski! He was really the one that started me on this journey. That year I got up, no problem, and then the next year we did the same and then the next, and so on…this year will be my 24th year in a row that I have been able to get out on or around my birthday to go skiing!”
Her helmsman, and loving husband of almost 50 years passed away three years ago, her son Michael has since taken over as her boat driver. Some years they have all the family: her daughter LaNelle, son Michael, and 3 grandchildren there to see her ski. Some years only a few are there, but rest assured Phyllis will be there until she decides it’s time for her to “retire.” Phyllis comments, “I want to get to 25 years before I retire from this journey, but who knows…”
For Phyllis, placing a lot of importance on keeping up with her health and fitness continues to make this goal attainable. “I wouldn’t say I have really a hobby anymore. Most of my extra time is spent taking care of the yard and I work out at the YMCA. Exercise has always been a consistent thing in my life. I don’t try to overdo it. I do believe it has made a big difference in what I’m still able to do with my body.” She does admit however,  “I like going to the gym, but I absolutely hate doing jumping jacks… don’t do those! I figure, at 74 years old I don’t have to do those if I don’t want to!”
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