by Colin Aina
On December 9th, I lost a great friend and we all lost an even better Human Being. Kevin Robinson was a member of our 212 community who extended much farther than the 4 walls of our gym. He was a motivational speaker, lecturer, philanthropist, elite athlete, mentor, world record holder, blackbelt, father, husband, and a friend. This may sound clichè, but Kevin was probably the most positive and upbeat person I've ever met. He exemplified drive and passion and had a "never give up and no excuses" attitude.
Kevin came to 212 about 6 years ago as a referral from a local police officer that we had worked with. I knew who he was as soon as he first came to the gym. I'd seen him compete in the X Games and numerous other BMX competitions. I even went to the skate park he used to own in the mid 90's here in East Providence. He started training with me and we immediately got along great. We both graduated from East Providence High School and enjoyed biking, skateboarding and snowboarding. Also, neither one of us can sit still for long.
We became involved with Kevin's KRob Foundation which raises money for the youth of local sports teams. He would offset the cost of uniforms, travel expenses and anything local athletes or sports teams would need to keep them funded.
The KRob Foundation hosted an annual wine tasting fundraiser that we donated to and eventually held at the gym for 3 years. Our annual Strength Fest also served as a fundraiser for the foundation. Kevin was always willing to help and support us as much as he could. He spoke to our MET School student interns when we hosted an internship for 2 years.
Kevin invited Kerry and me to be a part of his motivational speaking company, KRob Events. He would travel nationwide and give anti-bullying and self esteem assemblies to schools. If the school couldn't afford to pay his asking fee, he would show up and do the assembly for free. He also started giving lectures to groups of US Military members and mentioned that he'd like to get me involved..."cool," I thought.
One day I received a text from him that he wanted me to give a talk and some sort of strongman demo the following week at an undisclosed location to a military group...Great!
His logic was, "ya know...cause you're like really strong...but you don't look really strong because you're not huge, but you're strong." He continued to say that maybe I could pull a monster truck or a Hummer as part of the demo. One of Kevin's mottos was, "Dream Big". Hell....he was dreaming big with this request! I, for sure, thought the organizers would never be able to get a Hummer or monster truck at such short notice. Kevin also mentioned that I needed to have a detailed outline, a background check, and I couldn't share the outline with anyone.....and that I had to have all that info completed in 2 days. Kevin was always good for last minute plans. I scribbled together an outline about overcoming obstacles and giving others positive support. I had a conference call with the organizers, who grilled me and gave me indications for phrases and topics that I could not use in my talk(??), as well as making sure that a timetable was adhered to. It was still a bit vague as to the nature of this group. They also mentioned that they had procured a Hummer for me to pull...sorry, make that a stretch Hummer Limo.
The day came and I was on plane to said location (I can't say where). I was picked up by a black SUV and whisked off to the site. I felt like I was in an episode of Homeland! I was met by one of the organizers who gave me a lay of the land and schedule instructed me to meet at the dinner that the group was hosting. I was "debriefed" by another organizer who gave me the full scoop; the group were retired and current members of our elite special forces- Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Air Force Special Operations members and Marine Raiders, some of which were part of JSOC(Joint Special Operations Command). Also in attendance were members of SEAL Team 6, who were part of a mission in which a certain high value Taliban target was killed(!). They were here with their families and significant others for some sort of retreat or team building weekend. So yea...to say I was intimidated was an understatement. I was invited to grab a plate and dig in. The dinner was quite the spread, complete with a chef on the bbq and a customizable s'mores station. I joined a table with some other people who politely, but cautiously, introduced themselves with a, "Hi..who are you?" As I ate and engaged in conversation with my table mates, I looked around and sized up the men around me, "I could take that guy...that guy over there would kill me with his pinky... I wonder how many people that guy has taken out??"
They were a mixture of very normal looking guys, some didn't look athletic at all and some definitely looked like underwear models.
After dinner, the organizers conducted a well-orchestrated tournament of cornhole. Complete with an announcer and huge scoreboard, we were broken up into teams. It ended up being the most heated game of cornhole I've ever been involved with. Everyone was highly competitive and a ton of rousing was going on, but it was a ton of fun and eased my anxiety a bit. I retired to my hotel room and had a marginally productive night's sleep, anxious for my presentation.
My presentation was to be the absolute last workshop on the weekends' agenda. The entire weekend theme was on team building and communication skills. Due to the nature of work that these men do, they can never tell their closest friends and family where they are or where they are going. It's understood that when they leave home, they may not be coming back and the details surrounding their death may never be fully disclosed.
So then it was my turn to give my little talk, and apparently show off my little truck pulling skills. I had lugged some ropes all the way down (still can't say where) to use in my demo and started the demo off by getting a young girl to see if she could last 60 seconds and, unbeknownst to her, I told the others in attendance to not cheer her on and make it seem that they weren't interested in what she was doing. She lasted about 25 seconds. "Let's try this again," I said. She was doubtful that she could do it again, but I secretly told the crowd to cheer her on like crazy and do whatever they could. She proceeded to last the entire minute, albeit tired, and with a smile nonetheless. I don't entirely remember the segue, but I related the ropes demo to pulling the Hummer. I told the crowd what I was about to do and they looked a bit shocked. I told them I was going to need all of their help and by giving me all of their energy, I think I could do it. I had pulled numerous vehicles before, but some of the smallest vehicles can be tough. I hadn't practiced pulling this Hummer as not to give the surprise away. I strapped up and started to pull as hard as I could and the crowd went nuts all the way until the end. I was pressured to do it again...so I did.
At the end, I talked about how all of us have this inner strength that may not be evident from the outside and sometimes we need the support of others to help bring it out. I heckled some of the men there to give it a try and their response was, "no way, that thing looks heavy!" One of the men that I had shared the dinner table with the night before mentioned, "Man...if I knew who I was sitting next to last night, I would have been afraid of you!" "Really?" I thought. I rounded out the afternoon by signing autographs and being whisked away in my SUV back to the airport. I was back home within 36 hours of leaving.
By having the confidence in me that I possessed the capacity to provide insight and guidance to motivate others, Kevin saw something in me that I hardly ever recognize in myself. Most of us don't realize the potential that we contain deep inside. My demo and preceding talk actually touched on these topics, but I didn't realize that I was living it, right there in that moment, all thanks to Kevin.
I've realized that having an affect on someone isn't dependent upon your intent. Simply showing someone attention and interest in what they have to say or simply having a conversation with them may be all it takes to change their day, and even their life, even if just minutely.
I hadn't seen Kevin much over the past year or so, as he had become increasingly busy with his family and his foundation, but he would always reach out to see how I was doing. I last received a text from him in September saying, " Hey brother! How's it going?"