EAST PROVIDENCE — Nine-year-old Andrew Smyth of East Greenwich stared down at X Games' nine-time BMX medalist Kevin Robinson autographing his white T-shirt in heavy blue ink. When the elder had finished, he flashed a grin at his mom, Stacey.
The boy had never before met Robinson, and couldn't believe his good fortune when the 40-year-old athlete and East Providence native posed with him for a photo.
Robinson immediately hugged Stacey and thanked her for attending his second annual “Ride with K-Rob/Family Fun Festival,” held at Rose Larisa Park on Riverside's tip Sunday afternoon.
“I've never seen him before, and he's really cool!” Andrew gushed as he watched Robinson stroll away to greet more of the throngs. “I haven't met him, but I've seen pictures of him doing his tricks on a bike. I just love his autograph! I mean, he's famous!”
Stacey just smiled and hugged her youngest.
“There's no way I would've missed this,” Stacey Smyth insisted while she, her children Andrew and Ashley (12), boyfriend and “Townie” native Phil Benevides and his nephew, Noah Benevides, 4, took a breather near one of the dozens of canopies erected for the event.
“I used to work at a coffee shop in Riverside, and I became very friendly with Kevin and his wife, Robin,” she added. “Even though I don't work there anymore, I wanted to support the KROB Foundation because it really helps the local youths remain involved in athletics.
“I'm absolutely loving this! My kids are having a blast.”
When Robinson and his foundation's Board of Directors conducted the first-ever “Ride with K-ROB” last year, it attracted approximately 4,000 from all over southeastern New England. It also raised approximately $10,000, all to provide needy youngsters with the ability to pay for sports and activities they want to pursue.
When asked how many folks came out for Sunday's festival – the ride consisting of a three-mile trek from Pierce Memorial Stadium to the park (led by K-Rob himself) – Robin laughed, then said, “Geez, I don't know, but I know it's over 5,000. I look around at all these people, and I'm amazed. Everywhere you look, there are people smiling and having fun at all there is to do.
“This year, we're hoping to raise close to $20,000; if we double the amount we raised last time, that would be excellent,” she continued. “With that money, we'll do the same thing we did last year – pay for dues for children's athletics and activities such as football, karate, cheerleading, baseball, wrestling, soccer, swimming, you-name-it.
“We even paid for hip-hop dancing, where kids whose families perhaps couldn't afford it could register and take the classes. This year, we've received applications from kids who want to attend horseback-riding camps. We're also giving out 15 trips to the Woodward Camp (in Woodward, Pa., an action sports facility where her husband himself trains).
“That costs about $2,000 per kid; I know Kevin wanted to do something for children whose families may not have the means, but want to get better in BMX, skateboarding, etc.”
Robin explained that 85 vendors and businesses, not to mention community services, chose to help the K-ROB Foundation this time around, as opposed to 60 last spring.
“And, last year, we only had three bands; today, we have seven,” she said proudly. “It would be terrific to raise $20,000, but what's most gratifying is we have the opportunity to provide a free community event to whoever wants to come and have fun.
“There's no cost involved; the people only have to purchase what they want for food or soda. All of these businesses and sponsors have donated everything. Because we have no administrative costs, it gives us the chance to give virtually every dollar we raise back to the children.”
Robinson himself admitted that, on this near-perfect Sunday afternoon, he felt an absence.
He had invited his long-time friend, former New England Patriots' linebacker, Junior Seau, to attend, and he gladly accepted. Seau, however, was found dead at his Oceanside, Calif. of an apparent suicide a few weeks ago.
“When I found out, I just felt devastation and immense sadness,” he stated as he donned his padding in preparation of performing some BMX tricks for the crowds. “I lost a dear friend in Junior. I mean, all the good that he's done … People have a tendency to look at the final result, what he did in the end as opposed to what he's done while alive.
“He accomplished a lot in football, but there's so much more than that,” he added. “He created his Junior Seau Foundation in San Diego to help kids get involved in sports – in fact, that's why I started mine. It was all because of Junior.”
When he discovered the news, Robinson immediately told his wife her he wanted to present the first-ever “Junior Seau Award for Excellence.” With it he would honor the person whose qualities for giving most resemble those of his buddy, helping youths become all they can be.
Late Sunday afternoon, he issued that laurel to another longtime pal, Donnie Senna, an East Providence-based disc jockey.
“I'm very pleased with his selection,” he noted. “It was a really tough pick, but Donnie is such a deserving man, and more than deserves this honor. He goes above and beyond what he needs to do to help the children of E.P.”
Added Robin: “This is a very special event because it's dedicated to Junior's memory. He was very involved with being a community leader, and always advocated for underprivileged kids. Through this event, we're trying to keep his spirit alive.
“Donnie Senna is not just a DJ, but also a volunteer youth wrestling coach, and he just started Project 106, which helps create more awareness about the possible elimination of E.P. middle school sports. He also just opened Studio 360, designed for children who want to learn more about hip-hop dance and break-dancing.”
The Robinson clan wasn't the only one to think about Seau on this day. Former East Providence High and Boston College great Jamie Silva offered his thoughts about Seau; actually, so did Dr. David Chao, not only the San Diego Chargers' team physician but also the surgeon for the X Games – and Robinson.
“I didn't know Junior, but Kev's told me a lot about him, so I wish I did,” stated Silva as he oversaw an NFL-style (though toned-down) combine behind the Crescent Park Carousel. “I knew he was very close with him, and I know Kevin was really upset. I mean, I grew up watching Junior on TV, and – to be on the other side of the field with him (when he played special teams for the Indianapolis Colts) – it was amazing.”
As for his combine, Silva enlisted plenty of help to make sure those who chose to run the 40-yard dash or take part in push-ups, etc. had a blast. Among them: His mom, Deb Bellamy; his grandparents; the Rogers family; ex-Townie teammate Dwayne Wilkinson; and co-owners Steve Zarriello and Jaime Gamache of “The Way,” a human performance institute in Cranston.
“I thought the combine went great,” Silva mentioned. “Everyone was smiling and having a good time. I mean, we had kids from about four years old to guys in their 60s. This is awesome. Kevin gives so much of himself to do this, so anything I can do to help him, I'm more than willing.”
Silva, 27, isn't quite sure whether he'll play for an NFL team this coming fall; he indicated his leg is still a bit weak from an injury he suffered against the 49ers during a 2010 preseason game. He did say he flew to Kansas City to meet and work out for the Chiefs about three months ago.
“They told me to be ready, so we'll see,” he smiled. “If my leg feels better, yeah, I'd love to go back and play.”
While Silva spoke, students and instructors of the Lovett's Tae Kwon Do Center in Seekonk were delivering exhibitions to the masses. Naturally, “K-Rob” took part with his six-year-old son, Kevin Jr.
“Kevin's been doing tae kwon do for 20 years now,” Robin laughed. “He's really into it, and, because of him, so is our 'mini-Kevin!'”
The elder Robinson offered a mammoth grin as he watched Kevin Jr. perform a rather nifty move, one called a “side-thrusting kick flying over two crouched people.” When he finished, he had split a block of cement in two.
Moments later, Kevin Sr. got into the act. With his head on one chair and heels on another, he supported himself in mid-air as teachers placed six one-inch-thick cement plates on his chiseled stomach. Bob Lovett then swung a sledgehammer at Robinson's gut, shattering the plates in half.
Robinson grinned when he arose, scraping cement parts from his midsection.
“That was amazing!” said Christina Capobianco, a 10-year-old at Silver Spring Elementary perhaps two miles from this site. “Those were cement blocks, and he seemed to breathe very easy after he was hit.”
As Robinson watched his daughter, Shaye, 7, perform moves with her class at Aim High Gymnastics Academy in East Greenwich, he was asked about the light-blue T-shirt he wore, one that stated in big black letters, “JUNIOR.”
Below it was a photo of a bare-chested, grinning Seau emerging from the Pacific Ocean waves with his surfboard and flashing a “Hang-Ten” sign.
“Jason Gurka (the Seau Foundation President) brought it to me here a few hours ago,” Robinson sighed. “He used to love surfing in Oceanside. David (Chao) gave me a picture of Junior playing the ukelele. As soon as I saw it, I broke down and cried.”
Explained Robin: “I'm so proud of him. Kevin is truly a selfless person, just like Junior. He donates his time, efforts, energy and spirit to everything he does, but his heart really is in the foundation. He wants so badly to help others, especially those in his hometown.”
For more information, visit www.krobfoundation.org .