Boston tragedy too close for Robinson, Santiago

Kanights / ESPN Images

This week's tragic events in Boston hit a little too close to home for Masschusetts native Manny Santiago.

FOZ DO IGUAÇU, Brazil -- It is 4,810 miles from this nook of western Brazil to Boston, but for X Games competitors Kevin Robinson and Manny Santiago, the distance has felt much greater this week.

Robinson, a BMX Big Air pioneer and four-time X Games gold medalist from East Providence, R.I., and Santiago, a street skateboarder who has spent most of his life in Lowell, Mass., 25 minutes northwest of Boston, would have preferred to fare better in their respective competitions Friday.

Robinson crashed hard on a quarterpipe landing and was carried off the course on a backboard. He raised his arm to signal he was OK, though later was diagnosed with a concussion. Santiago, meanwhile, failed to advance in the Street League prelims after winning Thursday's Select Series qualifier, ending his hopes this week. But as has been the case for professional athletes around the world, their minds were consumed by thoughts of the Boston Marathon bombings and chaos unfolding at home.

An hour before his event began, Robinson, 41, sat shirtless in a tent beneath the MegaRamp, sweat dripping off his nose in the Brazilian heat. He talked about his wife, three children and parents, his six siblings and many nieces and nephews, all of whom live in Rhode Island or Massachusetts.

[The earth's] so calm on the surface, but underneath there's so much chaos and negativity.
BMX pioneer Kevin Robinson

"The scary thing is just how close to home it is," Robinson said. "It's in your back yard and you start hearing that they got a cop at MIT. I was just at MIT for my daughter's gymnastics meet."

Robinson has been in constant contact with his wife, Robin, but he said he tries not to think about the events transpiring at home, "just because I'm here and there's not much I can do about it from here. I don't want it to be resting in my head. I just have to come down here and do my job, and part of this job is having to shut all that stuff off and focus on what I do."

Santiago, 27, took a similar approach leading up to his event. He said the attacks have dominated talk among the street skating community this week in Foz, and television news reports from Boston flood the only English-language channel in his hotel. But despite his feelings on the attack and subsequent manhunt, Santiago decided not to share his thoughts publicly, as many skaters have done. That has drawn criticism from others who believe he should use his platform as a professional athlete to speak out against the attack.

"I haven't really talked about it much on social media, and I got called out by a bunch of my fans -- they act like I don't care," said Santiago, whose parents, sister, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews are back home in Lowell. "It's something bad that's happened and I don't feel like I need to add any more negativity to the situation. [The attackers] want negativity; they want the attention, and I'm not trying to give it any more attention."

Robinson, a close friend of the late Junior Seau who runs a foundation to promote active lives for kids in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is known for his motivational speeches and upbeat attitude in and out of action sports. On his way to Brazil, still overwhelmed by the Boston attacks, he posted a photo on Twitter of his plane flying above the clouds.

"I was looking out, and I got taken by how peaceful and calm everything looked -- just how beautiful it was," he said. "It's like looking at a duck on a pond. The duck looks so peaceful, but underneath, his feet are moving a mile a minute. That's how I feel the earth is right now. It's so calm on the surface, but underneath there's so much chaos and negativity."

Nearly 5,000 miles from home, drawing on perspective that often flows clearest from afar, Santiago and Robinson considered what they might tell their family and others who were affected by this week's havoc. Santiago got goose bumps just thinking about it. Robinson stared at the ground.

"We really need to step back and everybody needs to make an effort to reach out and be positive to somebody," Robinson said. "Shake somebody's hand, make some eye contact with somebody, you know? Put your cell phone down, stop texting for five minutes and shake somebody's hand. Start a conversation with somebody. It's got to start there, making small changes then growing from there."

Related Content