Like father, like son
Aspen, CO Colorado
Robbie Franklin’s legs were heavy. Pain accompanied each step as the Aspen High School junior plodded through the unrelenting 90-degree early-afternoon Caribbean heat.
He couldn’t stop now. Not after all he had already endured in Sunday’s St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon ” a 1.24-mile mile swim through choppy Christiansted Harbor waters and a 56-mile bike ride replete with multiple mechanical failures and downpours. Not with 13.1 miles standing between him and the finish line.
His goal was in sight. His father was by his side. And retired army sergeant Steve Robison was on hand to offer encouragement.
Robison’s presence was all the motivation the precocious 16-year-old needed.
“Once I met Steve, everything changed for me,” Robbie said Wednesday. “He was so open to talk about what happened to him. It was an eye-opening experience.”
As he prepared for last summer’s Badwater Ultramarathon ” a grueling 135-mile road race from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California ” Robbie’s father, Martin, sought to balance out an admittedly narcissistic pursuit by raising money for charity. The British expat and CEO of Jarden Corporation, a leading provider of niche consumer products, opted to work with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a nonprofit dedicated to easing the transition of servicemen and women as they return to civilian life.
Robison was part of Franklin’s race crew. His story and upbeat demeanor struck a chord with everyone involved.
The 24-year-old from San Antonio was on a tour of duty in Mosul, Iraq, when he lost his left leg below the knee and much of his right calf after being struck by a sniper’s bullet.
“He is someone who has an amazingly positive attitude,” said Franklin, whose efforts helped raise $500,000 ” WWP’s single-largest donation to date. “When you’re in the desert doing a race like that, you get to know the people around you really well. … He doesn’t seem handicapped at all.”
“Before, I just knew where the money was going but I didn’t know the people,” Robbie said. “After that, I had a face.”
And a plan of his own.
Robbie, who also caught the endurance racing bug, competed in his first race in September at the Westchester (N.Y.) Triathlon. Buoyed by the experience, he endeavored to up the ante ” and follow in his father’s philanthropic footsteps.
The family was out to dinner late last year when Robbie told his father he’d like to compete in St. Croix ” a race Franklin took part in back in 2003 ” and raise money for WWP.
Franklin was caught off guard.
“I was really impressed,” he said. “Usually, 16-year-olds have different priorities. At 16, I was smoking a pack and a half a day. The idea of doing an Ironman seemed like way too much work.”
Robbie was fully committed. He borrowed his father’s mailing list and sat down to pen a letter to friends and family seeking funding and outlining his plan.
“Not only have I inherited my father’s love of triathlon, but also his love of charity and bringing a special purpose to the competition,” Robbie wrote. “I hope that you will consider sponsoring my race and making a difference in lives of these servicemen who have bravely served our country.”
His expectations were modest. He figured people would send $20 to $40, and that he’d make no more than $10,000.
When checks for anywhere from $50 to $3,000 starting rolling in, however, Robbie realized he would far surpass his initial prediction.
By the time he headed to St. Croix last Friday ” his father, mother and friend Robison by his side ” Robbie had received nearly $75,000 in pledged donations.
“I was very amazed,” he said.
The fundraising effort almost went for naught, however. Upon check-in the day before the race, organizers told Robbie he would be unable to compete ” participants have to be 18 or older to take part, a factor they somehow overlooked when Robbie signed up months earlier.
After persistent pleading, the event’s governing body ultimately relented.
When he lined up with the first wave on the shores of the Caribbean Sea at 6:30 the next morning, Robbie became the event’s youngest competitor ever. The second youngest in this year’s field was 22.
He insists he wasn’t nervous.
“I didn’t sleep that night ” nobody does,” Robbie said. “I got up that morning and said to myself, ‘I’m going to do this race and give it my all. There’s nothing to be worried about.”
That sentiment was punctuated when Robbie did a backflip off the dock before the start of the 1.2-mile swim.
Then, after 47 minutes spent struggling in unusually rough harbor waters that slowed even the most tested of triathletes, reality sunk in.
After a quick glance at his watch, Robbie next set his sights on the 56-mile biking leg as heavy rain began to fall. While he quickly started making up for time lost in the water, he ran into a problem after just 10 miles. Robbie got a flat tire, but, because he did not know how to fix it, he sped on for another mile and a half to try and catch up to his father. By the time the two surveyed the damage, they realized Robbie’s front wheel had been cracked. They swapped the wheel with a group of people nearby, then continued on.
Robbie lost his chain three times during the rest of the hilly ride, but, while other bikers fell around him on the slick asphalt, he stayed upright.
The same could not be said for Martin Franklin, who was rounding a sharp corner a half mile before “The Beast” ” a leg-burning 600-foot climb over seventh-tenths of a mile with an average grade of 14 percent ” and slid, losing his rear wheel and cutting up his right side and right hand.
He managed to regroup and keep pace with Robbie. The duo ditched the bike for their running shoes at about 10:30 a.m. By then, the rain had dissipated and temperatures were hovering around 90 degrees.
“My legs weren’t moving,” Robbie said. “They wanted to be back on the bike.
“[My dad’s] a lot stronger than me. He pushed me the whole way. It really boosted my spirits having him with me.”
For 2 hours, 16 minutes, the duo battled heat and fatigue on the jogging trails and roads surrounding the Buccaneer Hotel.
Then, more than six hours after they started, the father-and-son duo, hands clasped together, crossed the finish.
Franklin, a veteran endurance racer, called the moment his most unforgettable.
“Watching your son dig really deep and giving 100 percent effort, there’s no better feeling for a parent,” he added. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. … I’ve never been more proud of him.
“He got an experience he’ll never forget. This was all about him.”
And all about the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It was the greatest feeling of accomplishment,” Robbie said. “It was working hard and doing something my dad always thought I could do. And it was raising money ” that made this the most amazing thing.”
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