Sports

Biking to the Top

X-Games medalist Kevin Robinson is an advocate for youth sports

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When Kevin Robinson talks about BMX biking, his passion for his sport is so inspiring that for a moment I forget about my own fear of pedaling and want to join him on the ramps. He fell in love with his BMX bike at age nine and rode his way from his hometown of East Providence to four X-Games gold medals and a world record. It is that exact motivation and ability to overcome obstacles that Robinson is spreading across the state with the K-Rob Foundation.

Robinson formed his non-profit as a means to encourage young people and pay forward his own success to aspiring athletes within the local community. He credits BMX as a character building experience that taught him the importance of hard work, respect and responsibility. Having benefitted so greatly from his own pursuits, Robinson is dedicated to affording the youth of his hometown the same opportunities to chase after their dreams. He has previously served as a board member for good friend and former New England Patriots linebacker Junior Seau’s Foundation, promoting healthy lifestyle choices and positive values for young people. Starting his own foundation seemed like the perfect way to really invest in his local community and reach out and help families in need. Coming from a hard-working, blue-collar background, Robinson understands that finding funding for extracurricular activities can be tough. Whether pursuing a goal on the rink, court or ramp, his foundation is working to level the playing fields in Rhode Island, providing equal opportunities for youth empowerment through sports.

What motivates Robinson in his efforts to help others? He understands facing adversity. When he first began riding in Rhode Island, the future pro started on a path that was largely untaken. Though BMX had a thriving underground scene in California in the ‘80s, it had yet to catch on here on the East Coast, and Robinson recalls being bullied for spending so much of his time focused on the non-traditional extreme sport. But he found his individuality and his passion in BMX trick riding, and just kept practicing. There weren’t many facilities around at the time, but together with a few friends he would find ways to get to Buttonwood Park in Warwick to put in the hours.

Though the possibilities of a future in BMX were unclear, Kevin invested himself in his craft, knowing that he needed to find some way to make his bike a part of his life. In the absence of a formal coach, Robinson’s commitment was both self-motivated and self-disciplined. “I found my own perseverance, and faced my own adversities,” he says. In fact, Robinson speaks so eloquently about his pursuits, it’s easy to see why he has also met with great success as a motivational speaker, a skill he frequently puts to use for the K-Rob Foundation.

Robinson’s journey is the ultimate validation of the advice I’ve always subscribed to: if you go after what you love, you will find success. His dedication allowed him to make a career out of riding: going pro at age 20, spending the past two decades touring the world and finding himself on awards podium after awards podium. He is a true artist and innovator within the sport. The vert (short for vertical riding) is where he found his creative outlet. Most photos you’ll find of Robinson in action involve a ramp, him on his bike and a whole lot of air. In 2008, he set a new BMX high air world record, and his X-Games medal collection continues to grow.

Kevin started the K-Rob Foundation in 2010, and since then he says things have “naturally evolved.” What began as an avenue for families to apply for grants for funding and sports equipment, now has a yearly calendar of community engagement and fundraising events, and Robinson continues to find new ways of involving and improving his hometown. At the helm of the foundation and his own events company, Robinson’s work ethic alone is inspirational. The 41-year-old father of three tirelessly champions local youth, not only in athletics, but as an across-the-board role model advocating positive lifestyle choices, respect, responsibility, and the power of perseverance.

The K-Rob Foundation’s biggest success to-date has been the annual Ride With K-Rob Family Fun Festival. Starting with a five-mile ride along the East Bay bike path, leading to the festival itself at Riverside’s Crescent Park and Looff Carousel, the free event is a celebration of community, active living and chasing your dreams. This year, the festival is scheduled for June 8, and Robinson is planning a special “Wisdom to Youth” ‘80s style BMX contest, giving local youth a chance to ride alongside the pros. The day also includes meet and greets with the sports stars, food and refreshments provided by local vendors and live music.

Most notably, the festival is a day of big announcements. Each year the foundation invites local youth to write letters about their own sports passions and pursuits, explaining why they deserve a spot at Pennsylvania’s state-of-the-art extreme sports training facility, Camp Woodward. Robinson himself spent 11 years at Woodward, and still heads to the famed residential facility every summer. Last year, 16 kids were chosen based on their letters and given the good news at the Family Fun Festival. Over the summer, the winners are bussed down to the camp for what Robinson simply describes as “the week of their life,” and with Woodward’s facilities including a ropes course, rock wall, bungee trampoline, swimming pool and go-karts, it’s easy to see why. (Can I come?) Robinson also presents the Junior Seau Award of Excellence, celebrating a local leader in honor of his late friend, who was a great advocate for community improvement through education, athletics and positive influences.

Robinson continues to set new standards within the BMX world, not only pushing the creative envelope on the ramps, but also using his influence and innovation to prioritize safety. Inspired by his son Kevin, now seven, Robinson created Grindz, a line of pants with built-in padding for riders who don’t want to wear bulky gear. “If you’re not wearing pads, you’re not trying hard enough,” says Robinson, who has always been sure to promote safety when riding. Without the hassle or look of traditional pads, Grindz keep athletes properly protected and able to put in the long practice hours.

What’s next for Robinson? This month, Kevin and the team at the K-Rob Foundation will host their Third Annual Wine Tasting Event at 212 Health and Performance in Rumford. A great way to get people out and engaged with the work K-Rob is doing, this year’s fundraiser will be held on Friday, March 1, and tickets can be purchased online. Later this year, Robinson plans to open a brand new 35,000 square foot training facility in Cumberland. The space will not only serve as a practice space for bikers, boarders and skaters across the state, but Robinson is also developing extensive programming, including after school activities and guest speakers, to turn the facility into a real community center. The center is slated to open in October, and after such an inspired talk with Kevin, I may have to break out my old rollerblades and relive those X-Games dreams. See you on the skate ramps!

See Kevin Robinson set a world record with his 27-foot jump: