K-Rob's Curtain Call
It's a call she's received too many times to count and more times than she cares to remember. "Kevin took a fall. He's at the hospital. He'll call as soon as he can."
It's a call he's made too many times to count, and many of those calls, he unfortunately can't remember. "Robin, it's me. I'm at the hospital. Don't worry. I'm OK."
But this time was different. Something in his voice told her this would be the last of the calls. They'd prepared for this day for years, but deep down, she worried he might never walk away. Now that it was happening, she wondered whether he would wake up the next day and change his mind.
But her husband wasn't prone to making heat-of-the-moment decisions or empty promises, so when she heard the sincerity in his voice, she knew he was ready. Once he said he would do something, he always followed through. "I'm done, Robin," he said. "I'm ready to retire from competition."
It’s like that scene from 'Jerry Maguire' where the woman watches her husband get hurt and then they cut to commercial.Robin Robinson
It was the Saturday afternoon of X Games Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, in April, and Kevin Robinson was in his hotel room after a predictable and familiar whirlwind of events that began with a bad crash during BMX Big Air finals the night before. After backflipping the MegaRamp gap on his second run, Robinson, 41, over-rotated a no-handed 540 on the second hit, the quarterpipe, crashed to the flat bottom and was knocked unconscious.
The thousands of fans lining the ramp watched as medical personnel stabilized his neck, strapped him to a spine board and carried him off the ramp and into an ambulance. They saw Robinson lift his right arm and flash a comforting smile and an encouraging thumbs-up as he disappeared from their view.
The millions watching on television, including Robin Robinson, Kevin's wife of nine years, didn't see Kevin gesture to the crowd, reassuring them that he was both awake and able to move his limbs.
"It's like that scene from 'Jerry Maguire' where the woman watches her husband get hurt and then they cut to commercial," says Robin, who was watching from the couple's home in East Providence, R.I., with their three kids. "I didn't know what was going on, I have no way to contact him and then someone calls and tells me, 'Kevin's on his way to the hospital.' It was awful. I'm really tired of getting those calls." And her husband is tired of making them.
So after 22 years as a professional BMX rider, Robinson will take his final contest runs during the Big Air finals on Aug. 2 at X Games Los Angeles at Irwindale Speedway. After competing in 17 X Games, winning four gold medals, undergoing 45 surgeries and, most importantly, becoming a dad to Shaye, 8, Kevin Jr., 7, and Riley, 3, Robinson is ready to trade his spot at the top of the roll-in for a seat in the X Games announcer's booth.
"I'm not glad I had that concussion in Foz, but I'm fortunate it happened when it did," he says. "Because the next day, I knew I was done. I don't want to do that to my family again. They need a dad more than I need another medal."
After his fall in Foz, Robinson was diagnosed with a concussion and released from the hospital after his neck X-rays and a head CT scan came back negative. He's had concussions before -- too many to count -- but over the past few years, he's been thinking about his future and wondering how long his brain and his body can hold up against the constant beating.
He talks with his friends who play in the NFL about the long-term effects of concussions, not to mention the early aging effects of extreme wear and tear on the human body. In May 2012, Robinson lost one of his best friends, NFL linebacker Junior Seau, to suicide just two years after he retired from football. And while Robinson continues to ride contests and demos with the enthusiasm of athletes half his age, at home he struggles just to get out of bed. As a retirement gift to himself, he scheduled hip replacement surgery for the end of August.
"I hear people say to Kevin, 'When you turn 60, you will be in pain,'" Robin says. "And I think, 60? What about now? They don't see the daily struggles. He wants to play with the kids, but he can't walk around the mall, can't throw a ball and run after it or go for a walk after dinner. You can see on his face that every step is a chore. It's painful for me to watch."
But as painful as the injuries, surgeries and months of rehab have been, Robinson knew what might hurt even more: walking away from the sport he loves, from the challenge of competition and pushing his body and bike to do things no one has done before, and from the camaraderie of standing on the deck of a vert ramp or the Big Air roll-in surrounded by his friends and peers. So, slowly, he and Robin began to prepare for this day together, knowing it would come whether they prepared for it or not.
"Kevin and I are similarly minded people. We're both really motivated, and we'd seen a few of his friends get injured and their careers end before they knew what they would do next," Robin says. "We wanted to make sure we could care for our kids before he retired, but we had to prepare for the mental journey, too. We had to replace a passion with a passion."
Robinson knew he couldn't simply unzip from himself and step into a new life the day after retiring from competition if he didn't first find a new passion to step into. Several years ago he began motivational speaking and found that sharing his experiences and struggles with everyone from kids to corporate CEOs to Navy SEALs lights him up in the same way competition does. And it's a heck of a lot easier on his body. So in 2010, he and Robin started Kevin Robinson Events, a company that books speaking engagements around the country for Robinson and a group of like-minded professional athletes, including BMXer Mykel Larrin, gymnast Shawn Johnson and New England Patriots long-snapper Lonie Paxton.
That same year, he and Robin launched a padded-clothing company called Grindz, began sponsoring young athletes and founded a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to families in Rhode Island's East Bay to help their children become involved and stay active in sports.
In 2012, the Robinsons began work on an indoor-outdoor skatepark and action sports facility that will blend sports training with motivational speaking and corporate events. Called Impact2, the name is a callback to Impact Stunt Park, a skatepark Robinson opened in East Providence in 1997 with a few friends. "Impact2 will be a place where you come to train in your sport or to face your fears," Robinson says. "I want it to be a destination." The facility is slated to open in late 2014.
And on that same Saturday in Foz, less than 24 hours after his fall in Big Air, Robinson climbed into the announcer's booth to provide color commentary during BMX Vert. Working as a television commentator is another of his newfound passions. In the spring of 2011, after damaging his recently repaired right shoulder in a car accident, Robinson feared his body was forcing him into early retirement. While he worked to regain strength and mobility in his shoulder, he asked the folks at ESPN -- some of the same people who'd invited a scrawny blond kid from East Providence to compete in the 1995 Extreme Games -- to give him a shot in the announcer's booth that summer.
"I immediately loved it," Robinson says. "I've become as passionate about my job in the booth as I was about riding at X Games. I want to dive headfirst into it, educate myself and put the same progression, passion and work ethic into this new job as I did into my riding career. All of these projects are new passions for me, so I feel very prepared and comfortable with my decision. I don't have to be scared that there will be this big void in my life starting on Saturday."
That's not to say Friday night, Aug. 2, won't be tough. "I know he'll be standing at the top of that ramp, looking around through tears and feeling like this is the last time he will see the world this way," Robin says. "I just hope that when they call his name, he takes a moment to give himself a pat on the back. He never does. I want him to feel the moment and feel proud of himself for carving out a life and a career that wasn't mapped out for him. He created all of this."
Including the way in which he will close this chapter of his life: "I wanted to have my goodbye," Robinson says. "I couldn't let Foz be my last contest. I always said I would walk away on my terms, with my friends and Robin by my side. I've always followed my heart and done what I believe is right for me. And this is how I want to write the end of my story. I didn't want it written for me."
As it turns out, that was his call to make.