Jason Robinson won a silver medal and four bronze medals at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Word Games in Ireland and returned to a hero’s welcome.
It began at the airport in Syracuse where he was surprised with a limo ride, then at Exit 36, where two Westmoreland fire trucks began escorting that limo down the Thruway. Back in town, people lined the streets to cheer him on as he returned to a celebration at the high school.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about all this is how, even with all the success and accolades, he remains as humble as he is determined.
Jason told me that while everyone was cheering him on, he kept thinking, “how awesome it was that everyone came out.”
Despite winning five medals in an international competition, he told me that the reception was unexpected.
“I just said, ‘My gosh,’” Jason recalled. “I wasn’t expecting this. I had such a smile on my face.”
“He is such a good kid, very humble and appreciative,” Kristen Szarek said. “He kept telling everyone, ‘thank you,’ for being there.”
Szarek went to school with Jason’s mother Erin and has known him his whole life. It was she who organized and promoted the wonderful event.
“The whole family is inspiring,” Szarek said. “They never see anything as an obstacle. That allows him to achieve so much.”
Jason’s father Jamie Robinson said since he was a little kid, his son has put himself out there.
“You can’t put limits upon people with disabilities. We have never held him back. Whatever’s he’s wanted to try, he’s tried it,” the father said.
Trying things and finding a way to succeed has already gotten Jason all the way to an international level of competition. It’s something he never takes for granted.
“When I first went (to Ireland), I didn’t expect anything,” he told news reporters. “I just wanted to go compete. I wanted to post good times and those good times ended up giving me medals.”
The big crowd that gathered in the parking lot of the high school agreed.
“He let me hold one of those medals, which was pretty cool,” Szarek laughed.
Jason’s cousin, Ella Perrault, held a sign that simply depicted five medals in the shape of exclamation points, which then said, “Congratulations Jason,” followed by three more exclamation points.
“This community really supported everything we’ve done,” Jaime said. “Jason wouldn’t be where he was without them. It started in elementary school when they helped buy his first adaptive wheelchair.”
It was around that time that his family and friends started the J-Rob Foundation, a non-profit organization that “pays it forward” by helping to fund adaptive equipment for other kids with disabilities who want to participate in sports.
According to the group’s website www.jrobfoundation.com: “It is our passion to help other children with physical disabilities achieve their dreams. The Westmoreland community and elementary school ignited the flame with their kindness and generosity and we aim to keep the flame ablaze.”
The organization is hosting a golf tournament fundraiser on Saturday, Aug. 25. For more information, visit the event page at Facebook.com/JRobFoundation.
That wheelchair allowed Jason to compete in the Boilermaker for the first time in 2013. He was then the youngest participant ever in the race’s wheelchair division. This year he posted his best time ever and finished 13th overall amongst wheelchair athletes. And that was just two days after returning home from Ireland.
But Jason said what’s most important is that others have the same opportunities he’s had — the same opportunities as any non-disabled high school athlete.
“That’s what we are, high school students, just like everyone else,” he said. “I want to raise awareness, and hopefully get others like me involved in the sport.”
That’s a message that resonates and inspired everyone in our town, especially the people who know him the best.
“I look at it like this,” his father said proudly, “If he’s able to do what he does then I am able to push myself to be better. He makes you want to push yourself.”
I asked Jason what the most important message is that he could share with others.
“If there’s something you want to try, go out and try it,” he answered. “I have played every sport I’ve wanted to. If there are things in your way, there are always ways around them.”
Ron Klopfanstein is a 7th generation Westmoreland native, president of the Westmoreland Historical Society, member of the town pool committee and a 1st degree Westmoreland Mason. He teaches English at Utica College and Mohawk Valley Community College. Like him atFacebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.