Rob and his Sled, Katie Strong

i met rob in march of 2013 at the start of my first winter classic.  he blended in with the rest of the misfits that piled into the mccarthy b&b for the pre-race dinner, but he seemed somehow calmer.  and just watching the interactions between all the veteran racers, it was clear that he’d been doing this sort of thing for a long time.  when we all lined up the next morning, i’m pretty sure he was the only one there with a backpack AND a sled full of gear.  part of me wondered if i should be questioning my lightweight approach…  turned out we were both wrong: he regretted bringing the sled (too many trees) and i regretted leaving my tent (too cold).  (although he still carried a ton of gear the following year too…part of me thinks he did that to make sure he could take care of any of us out on the course that needed a spare [tent, stove, puffy, etc.].)  

my partner and i didn’t see team heavy during most of our trip, but all the anchorage folks re-convened for a post-race potluck.  i distinctly remember how enthusiastic and supportive and psyched Rob was for everyone who was out there.  (i almost wrote “finished” but that wasn’t it: he was so happy for everyone who tried.)

rob’s support and enthusiasm was unwavering.  he made me feel so incredibly welcome and like i belonged there, toeing the line of an event i wasn’t so sure i could do.  he even invited me to travel with team heavy when i was uncertain about finding a partner and thinking of doing the summer race.  i’d never been invited onto someone’s team before…it meant more than i ever let him know.  

i still can’t believe he’s gone.  i know i’m not alone there, but i just can’t wrap my head around it.  i know his shoes will never be filled, although i hope i can follow his example of wholeheartedly welcoming others into the classic community — the classic family.

-katie strong

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