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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Olympic Passion

By John W. Kennedy
July 29, 2012

Professional Bicycle Motocross (BMX) racer Donny Robinson had an unbelievably smooth path en route to a medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Afterward, career opportunities appeared limitless.

However, the road to London has proven much more arduous. Robinson has battled injuries, increased competition and disappointing finishes. Yet, as a Christian, Robinson believes the tough times have resulted in a more genuine faith.

“I’ve never gone through as much growth as I have right now when I’ve been searching for answers,” says Robinson. “I’m able to talk about my struggles and how the Lord is helping me through these. Other people are able to relate to my setbacks. Now I have something to share.”

Robinson, who turned 29 in June, began biking on dirt courses at age 6. From day one he fell in love with the sport. BMX involves off-road bicycle sprint races in laps that feature difficult curves, banked corners and jumps. A photo still hangs in the family home from those earliest days of Robinson jumping his bike. The shot shows the front wheel four feet high, but the rear wheel just barely airborne.

“With me being so small and having one wheel so far up in the air, it felt like I was 10 stories high, but the bike was only 2 inches off the ground,” recalls Robinson, a lifelong resident of Napa, Calif. “It brought me so much joy to jump my bicycle on the track.”

Back then, Robinson raced against other kids for the fun of it. There were no coaches, no judges.

By age 10, though, Robinson’s parents (with Donny’s sister, Starla, in tow) drove him around to neighboring states for BMX competitions as the nascent sport grew more popular. Support from his parents came naturally, thanks to a fitness-enthusiast/gymnast mother and motorcycle-racing-buff father. During his youth, Robinson built his upper body and leg strength through gymnastics.

“Dad got me into BMX so he could transition me to motorcycles,” Robinson says. “It never happened.”

Robinson says his parents didn’t try to live their lives through him. He came up with the idea of competing — and they lent their wholehearted backing.

“Their lives revolved around me,” Robinson says. “They did without new cars and house upgrades so they could help me realize my dreams.”

Robinson’s parents gave him a good moral compass, but they never went to church.

At age 12, two Christian mentors came into Robinson’s life, almost simultaneously: his dance teacher and his first major sponsor.

“Both of these people were die-hard Christians living for the Lord,” Robinson says. “I saw Christ in them by the way they lived. I could tell they had something special. I wanted to be more like them. Their faith resonated with me. These two people changed my life.”

Robinson committed his life to the Lord at age 16 during a turbulent airplane ride as he listened to a Keith Green song. The tune, called “You,” repeatedly warns listeners not to wait too long to make a decision to follow Jesus. His dance teacher later baptized him.

In 2002, Robinson turned pro. His career continued to gel, even though, at 5 feet 5 inches tall, the adult Robinson struck many industry observers as less than a sure thing in a sport where most riders are taller than 6 feet. But Robinson is able to handle a bike, and his endurance, strength training and quickness all paid off. His breakout season occurred in 2006 when he won 20 races. He became the U.S. national BMX champion in 2007.

Then came 2008, the first time the Olympics ever featured BMX racing. Americans had created the sport and had the inside track for winning. Only half a dozen guys, Robinson among them, had a legitimate shot at a medal among the 32 competitors.

Although he earned the bronze medal, Robinson had two crashes during the trials.

“I was the last person to qualify for the final,” Robinson remembers. “It was a miracle I was even in the final.”

Fresh from his Olympic thrill, Robinson knew he had a great platform to share his faith and be a role model to others. He began visiting public schools, sharing about his sport, but also about himself. He encouraged students to make positive lifestyle choices, and to avoid giving in to peer pressure to drink alcohol or swear.

In 2009, Robinson continued to realize his goals, becoming the BMX world champion and top-ranked rider in the world, according to Union Cycliste Internationale (the world governing body for sports cycling). That year he also married his girlfriend of seven years, Tiffany Glenn.

Donny and Tiffany met at a BMX racetrack, where the then-17-year-old Tiffany had gone to watch her nephew compete. Donny and Tiffany soon struck up a conversation.

“He was a good, clean-cut kid, not like the other guys,” Tiffany recalls. “Many others met the extreme sport stereotype of being partiers.”

Tiffany says Donny helped her to stop cussing and prompted her to make a profession of faith in Jesus.

“I could have gone in a bad direction; it wouldn’t have taken much,” Tiffany says. “I wasn’t taught the right things growing up. I’m thankful I met Donny.”

On the heels of a multitude of victories after the Olympics, things began to unravel for Robinson in 2010. Three times he suffered a collapsed lung. Although he has recovered from injuries, Robinson no longer is achieving awe-inspiring results. Robinson now realizes that biking — and living — is a series of glorious victories as well as crushing defeats.

“The meaning of life goes beyond BMX,” Robinson says. “I know that it’s not about me anymore; sometimes I thought it was.”

Tiffany says faith in God has helped the couple endure. They often are apart as Donny travels and she manages a grocery store.

“I thank God every day that Donny has the same values,” Tiffany says. “I’m glad we’re able to go to church together.”

Robinson has found the opposition daunting for the Olympics this year. In the past four years, many other countries — particularly Latvia, Holland and France — have invested a great deal of money into training younger BMX racers. In addition, a dozen Americans had a shot at a spot on the three-man Olympic team.

And biking technology has vastly improved since 2008. More riders now have specialized training, including “mental coaches.”

On top of that, Robinson no longer is considered the face of the sport. With his injuries and low finishes, some of the sponsors that once stood behind him opted not to renew their partnerships in his quest for a second Olympic team berth. Still, Robinson is training harder than ever.

“I want to get to the Olympics to have a platform, but it’s not my whole life,” Robinson says. “I want to keep racing — maybe for years longer than people think I’m able to — because it’s my passion. I still don’t have a car; I ride my bike everywhere.”

Currently the upper age limit for BMX racers is around 34 years old. Robinson figures he could extend that if he stays healthy.

Meanwhile, Robinson plans to keep mentoring youth at schools. He wants to use his fame to let people know that, with God, anything is possible.

“The Lord has great things in store for people,” Robinson says. “People don’t realize what they’re capable of. There is always hope. We should never give up.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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