I don’t know anyone in triathlon who knew Robin Williams as did Bob Babbitt. I asked Bob about Robin. His voice was hoarse when we spoke. I believe Bob had spent a lot of time talking about Robin for local television in San Diego. Here’s a part of what Bob told me.
“He was first exposed to the sport at Escape From Alcatraz. He met Scott Tinley, Greg Welch, Wendy Ingraham, he sort of connected with those guys up there. You know how celebrities love athletes. When he was out riding his bike he wasn’t a star, he was just another geek in a helmet.”
“Virginia [Tinley] became executive director of Challenged Athletes Foundation,” continued Bob, as he spoke of Robin Williams’ involvement as a relay member taking part in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge, a fundraiser for CAF. “[Robin] became part of Team Braveheart, with Rudy Garcia-Tolson doing the swim, Robin rode the bike, and Tinley ran the half-marathon. They were together as a team for 8 years. Rudy was 7 years old, 8, 9, Robin was a big influence in Rudy’s life.”
I asked Bob about Robin’s interaction with fans and fellow competitors when he took part in these events.
“People at a triathlon would bombard him, come up shake his hand, thank him for his involvement with CAF, he was so gracious. How many people would give to this small charity? Come down and ride 56 miles? Every news media outfit was out there to see Robin Williams, he really put us on the map.”
Robin had a sly side as well.
“He liked nothing better than a live mic. Robin loved that. They couldn’t stop what he was going to say. ‘This is live, right?’ he’d ask when interviewed by a local TV reporter. ‘Yes, it’s live. Mr. Williams, what are you going to feel like after 56 miles?’ ‘There’s going to be a river of sweat running down the crack of my ass.’”
“Rudy received Casey Martin award, people who are inspirational to the disabled,” Bob recalled. “Casey Martin was the golfer, you'll remember, who had circulation problems. He would give away a $25,000 grant every year. Casey would present the grant. But this time, when Rudy won it, Casey walks out on stage and says, “We have someone who just finished performing on the other side of the continent, he immediately flew across country, and he will be presenting the award tonight. Robin Williams.”