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His Longest Journey: La Jolla cyclist will ‘Race Across America’ to help friend’s ailing grandson

La Jolla resident Bob Robinson is part of a four-person relay team racing across America to raise money for the treatment of cystinosis.
La Jolla resident Bob Robinson is part of a four-person relay team racing across America to raise money for the treatment of cystinosis.
(Courtesy )

La Jolla cyclist will ‘Race Across America’ to help friend’s ailing grandson

On June 20, La Jolla cyclist Bob Robinson will embark on the longest journey of his life, trekking 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland during the Race Across America ultra-marathon.

Each year, the event raises about $2.5 million for its chosen charities, including the organization Robinson and three other cyclists on his team are supporting this year — 24 Hours for Hank.

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The organization was founded in honor of Henry (also known as ‘Hank’), the grandson of Robinson’s friend and fellow cyclist, David Sturgis of Sandpoint, Idaho (where Robinson and his wife frequently vacation).

“I know this little Hank and I know his family and they’re wonderful people and if I can do something to help prolong his life and make it a little bit better, I’m happy to do so,” said Robinson, 72, a former marathon runner who switched to cycling in 2002.

Although the other three riders on Robinson’s team, including Sturgis, are all from Idaho, the most promising research into the disease that mostly affects children is being conducted at UC San Diego. Money raised previously by 24 Hours for Hank ski events, along with money from the Cystinosis Research Foundation, directly funded research conducted by the team of Stephanie Cherqui, UCSD assistant professor-in-residence in the Department of Pediatrics. Her team found that hematopoietic stem cells proved effective in treating cystinosis in mice, and is pursuing clinical trials.

David Sturgis with his grandson, Henry (aka ‘Hank’), who is battling cystinosis, a rare genetic disorder found mostly in children that slowly attacks cells and organs, including the kidneys, eyes, liver and central nervous system.
David Sturgis with his grandson, Henry (aka ‘Hank’), who is battling cystinosis, a rare genetic disorder found mostly in children that slowly attacks cells and organs, including the kidneys, eyes, liver and central nervous system.
(Courtesy )

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La Jolla resident Phil Currie, who serves on the 24 Hours for Hank board of directors and is also a cyclist in his 70s, cites Robinson as an inspiration. “Bob is not only an amazing athlete, but has devoted countless hours of volunteer work as a pillar in the Urban Life Church, which serves children in southeast San Diego,” he noted.

Robinson and the other members of his team will take turns riding and resting, each individually pedaling close to 750 miles by the time they arrive in Annapolis. “We’ll break up into teams of two,” he said. “Dave and I will ride for six hours while the other team is resting, eating and trying to clean up. We’ll do segments, each one of us going as fast as we can … 24 hours a day, day and night.”

Robinson said he typically rides six days a week along the San Diego County coast, moving on to steeper terrain such as Palomar Mountain, the Laguna Mountains and the ascent into Ramona when training for competitions. He’s completed several century rides (those of 100 miles or more within 12 hours). His longest treks to date include the 120-mile Triple Bypass Bicycle Tour in Colorado and the 130-mile Tour of California (aka the Death Ride).

However, is his endurance up for the Race Across America? “I’m hoping,” Robinson, said, with a laugh. “It will probably be twice as much as I’ve ever done in a week’s time.”

Robinson said he is looking forward to taking in passing scenery in Prescott and Flagstaff, Arizona; Cortez and Durango Colorado; and the area near Springfield, Illinois, where he and wife, Holly Robinson, raised their children, and where some friends plan to come and cheer him on along the route.

Robinson said his wife’s support has been crucial as he prepares to embark on his journey. “She’s been a real star to kind of provide all the stuff I need, make sure I’m eating the right kind of food, getting enough rest and taking away some of the other stresses of everyday life.”

Holly referred to the Race Across America as the pinnacle of her husband’s “riding bucket list.”

“He always wanted to ride across American, but he never thought he would be racing, 24/7,” she said, noting that his team will be supported by a crew of about 12, an RV filled with sustenance and sleeping quarters, and vehicles leading the way through the dark of night, taking up the front and rear. “It’s a huge effort by a lot of people,” she said.

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More information and donations: 24hoursforhank.org or bit.ly/24hoursforhank