The following is a remembrance by coach and author Bob Glover in the online Runner's World
Robin Williams, My Teammate
Before he made it big on stage, he made an impact as a running partner.
When I first met Robin Williams, he was 23 and I was 28. I was excited to meet him because I just knew he would be a star – but not as a comedian and actor.
As a runner.
This was in early 1975, and he had just arrived as a student at Juilliard in New York with his friend Christopher Reeve. I had also just come to the city, to take the job as the Athletic Director of the West Side YMCA. I was given a mandate from my boss: “Go meet this Fred Lebow character and infiltrate the New York Road Runners Club. He is on to something. They have 200 members. Running is going to be big and we want it to be the focus of our fitness programs.”
After meeting Fred, the next step was to form a running team of members at the YMCA. So I scouted runners on the 23-lap-per-mile indoor track. Little by little, interest grew. Within a month we had a decent team but needed another good scorer.
And then it happened. A young man was circling the track for the first time and looked very fit. I waited for him to finish and told him of my plot. He agreed to join up.
Robin ran his first race with us, a 10K in hilly Central Park on April 13, in a quick 34:21 for 20th place in a field of 250 runners. He was our second scorer, I was our third, and our five-man team from the West Side YMCA runners took 3rd place for our first trophy ever! Here's our newsletter:
After the race Robin confided that he ran track in high school in California. After more prodding, he revealed that he had run 1:58 for 800 meters. He loved cross country and was new to road racing. Indeed, a star was born!
Robin was a character, and he was quite amused by the quirky Fred Lebow. Given that Fred and I promoted running to anyone who would listen, Robin called us Barnum and Bailey.
Every Wednesday night our team got together for the 16-or-so-mile “Bridge Run.” We ran from the YMCA, once around the lower loop of Central Park, over to Riverside Park and then up to the George Washington Bridge, picking up the pace as we went. The top runners regrouped and then raced back. Then came the second workout, as we always went to Martin’s Bar and Grill for dinner and beer.
Robin was one of the gang. He was actually a serious guy, but he had his moments of wise-cracking, as did we all on those runs. We all got a lot stronger doing those brutal Bridge Runs. Two products, Jane Killion and Lauri Pedrinan, went on to place third and fifth in the 1978 Boston Marathon, leading our women’s team to victory.
Robin disappeared from NYC running as suddenly as he appeared. And I lost contact.
About 1981, as I was walking back from a run in the Park, I saw a man stretching up against a small, elite hotel on the East Side. We looked at each other in one of those “Why do I think I know you” moments. And he blurted out: “Coach Bob, YMCA!” We both broke out laughing.
He wanted to know how Jane and Lauri and others were doing. I asked what he was up to, and he said he was an actor-comedian. Robin said he enjoyed my running book. He invited me to look him up next time I was out West. Well, everyone in New York, it seems, says they are an actor. I seldom watch TV, and so I thought nothing of it.
A few months later I ran across an old teammate and mentioned Robin to him. He then informed me that Robin was Mork of Mork and Mindy! Whoa!
Our paths never again crossed. I often chuckled when thinking what it would be like to get Robin Williams, Fred Lebow and Coach Bob all together again.
When I first saw an Internet announcement of his death, I assumed it was a hoax. How could the young runner I trained with and who was so full of life and ambition, how could the superstar comedian and humanitarian, how could someone so full of life, be dead?
A training partner who you shared hard runs and cold beers with never leaves your heart and mind. Not even after he became a superstar and moved on to cycling as his sport of choice. Even 40 years removed from our short but significant friendship, his loss hits me hard.
I will now head out for a solitary run in the woods, feeling Robin beside me.
* * *
Bob Glover is the author of the best-selling “The Runner’s Handbook,” and “The Competitive Runner’s Handbook,” coach of the Greater New York Racing Team, and coach of the New York Road Runners training classes, which he founed 36 years ago.