Kevin Robinson, A Remarkable Life
A few months before the 2013 X Games in Los Angeles, Kevin Robinson and his wife, Robin, began planning his retirement from BMX. At the time, he was serving double duty as a competitor and analyst for ESPN and the X Games, and as the day drew closer, we started discussing in TV production meetings how we would celebrate his career during the broadcast. Our producers decided I would interview him at the bottom of the Big Air ramp before his final run and then, as he made his way back to the top of the ramp, they'd run a highlight reel of his greatest tricks.
I wish we'd also run a highlight reel of his greatest hugs.
K-Rob was a hugger. Fans of BMX in the era of Kevin Robinson know what I'm talking about. It was one of the first things I noticed about him when I started covering BMX in the early 2000s. One year, I stood on the deck of the vert ramp and attempted to count the number of hugs he gave to his competitors during an X Games contest. At some point, I lost track. Kevin's passion for pushing his limits was eclipsed by only his enthusiasm for watching someone else redefine theirs. When he stopped competing, the hug-o-meter took a hit.
Kevin was the youngest of seven, but he was a big brother to so many. I thought of him that way. He was protective of his friends, held you to the same high standard to which he held himself and never hung up a phone call without saying, "I love you." He wore his emotions on his sleeve and wrapped his arms tightly around everyone in his life. He told you when he was proud of you, what he admired about you and when you did a good job. He never let you off the hook when he thought you needed to work harder or be better, and he asked only that you do the same for him. He was the kind of person who wanted to see his friends happy, successful and in love because anything he had, he wanted to share.
Kevin died of a stroke on Saturday, 10 days before his 46th birthday. I went to sleep that night still in shock but comforted by the thought that none of those who knew him were spending time wishing their friend had known how much they loved him. He knew. They knew. Kevin always made sure of that.
I first spent time with Kevin outside of the X Games in July 2004. He and Robin, who were both from Providence, had reconnected in Rhode Island a couple of years earlier, fallen in love over karaoke and married in January in the Dominican Republic. They were living in State College, Pennsylvania, and the piece I was writing for ESPN The Magazine required I spend a couple of days shadowing their lives. Kevin was in the midst of his protein-shakes-and-bodybuilding days; Robin was eight months pregnant with their first child and still playing rounds of golf. They had a karaoke bar in their basement and a cat named Arnold Schwarzenegger. They were so in synch -- the way they looked at each other, the way they talked about each other, the way they fit so effortlessly together. Over the years, as I got to know them better, I measured my own relationships against theirs. I think anyone who knew them did the same.
Kevin had the most incredible family, and he made sure you knew that, too. Nothing lit K-Rob more brightly than talking about how smart and competitive and beautiful Robin is, how talented his daughter, Shaye, and sons, Kevin Jr. and Riley, are. He bragged about his parents and his brothers and sisters and his community. Few people love their hometown the way Kevin loved and supported East Providence.
He also loved country music, once sang the national anthem at a Major League Baseball game and even auditioned for the president of the music label Capitol Records. He had incredible range, and that wasn't limited to his singing voice. He was warm and compassionate and a relentless tough-ass. He was an approachable superstar, an otherworldly guy next door. He loved to talk and talk and talk. Yet he was an incredible listener. He participated in an individual sport, but he was in it for the camaraderie and friendships. He practiced martial arts, competed in bodybuilding and taught self-defense. He was also a wizard with a sewing machine and watched "The Notebook" more times than he'd want me to print.
With Kevin, every action had an equal and positive reaction. He was bullied as a child, so he became a motivational speaker and encouraged kids to choose kindness over hate.
He lost two of his best friends, NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and BMX legend Dave Mirra, to suicide. When both men were posthumously diagnosed with CTE and he began to understand the lasting effects of head trauma, he became vigilant about his own brain health and a voice for concussion awareness. He openly discussed his struggles with anxiety, memory loss and depression and worked with neurologists, lectured at medical schools and participated in research projects in the hopes that the next generation of riders could safely enjoy the sport that brought him so much joy.
When he finally made the decision to walk away from competitive BMX, he made sure he'd set himself up with a life that would feed his passions, keep him involved in the sport and allow him to continue making those around him better. As I watched him take his final run as a competitive BMX athlete that summer day in 2013, I thought about something Robin had said a few weeks earlier. Her words have also been running through my mind the past few days.
"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 said. "I just hope when they call his name, he takes a moment to give himself a pat on the back. I want him to feel proud of himself for carving out a life and a career that wasn't mapped out for him. He created all of this."
What a remarkable highlight reel it made.