I never expected to be in a position like this.
Please excuse me if I seem a bit surprised, but getting inducted into the SMU Hall of Fame comes unexpectedly.
I just always ‘did the things’ because I genuinely enjoyed doing them, you know?
You do them for the sake competing and winning for yourself and your team.
Then you find out the things you’ve achieved as an athlete are recognized to the extent that someone wants to honor you by putting you in the Hall of Fame along with some very, very special individuals.
It really is quite something.
I’m very grateful to the people who voted and decided to induct me.
Whoever they are, thank you.
I guess one of the reasons it’s so surprising is just me thinking back on how I ended up here. I have to admit, I went through a mixture of emotions when I first came to SMU.
My father passed away when I was initially getting ready to enroll in school, and I ended up not going right away. Instead of going to SMU, I hopped on a plane ride back home to England to be with my family.
When I did arrive for the spring semester then, however, part of me was excited to be going somewhere new and another part of me was sad to be leaving my mother and my brothers and my sister behind.
I wanted to make sure I could see them regularly, and one of the only ways I knew I could do that was, by becoming a good enough athlete that my country would call on me to represent them in the Olympics and other international competitions.
They’d then have to fly me back to Europe occasionally, and I could be closer to my family.
This mindset created tremendous motivation and incentive for an opportunity to go back home and see them.
And SMU really was the place where all of those things happened for me.
There’s been a lot of heavy influences in my life as a result of going to SMU, both as a coach and an athlete.
As I reflect on my time there, it’s not a single moment or so that stands out to me. Rather, it’s the overall experience, particularly the people I’ve met along the way, that really defined my time at SMU.
Many of the people I’ve encountered aren’t just friends.
I consider them my family.
When you sit back and think on it, you realize how much of an impact each and every individual had on your life.
I mean, these people have been major influences on me.
Sometimes, you just reach a point where you realize how lucky you’ve been to even be associated with them.
I think one of the most enjoyable things from this Hall of Fame induction has been sharing some of the successes I’ve had with those people — whether they’re friends I met during my time as an athlete or people I’ve coached that ended up becoming friends today.
It sort of brings all of those things together.
It’s just been absolutely amazing.
I would have never predicted competing in the Olympics and becoming a coach, much less being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But all of those accomplishments are attributed to the people I’ve come across in my life.
I truly have been blessed in that regard.
And to give you all a bit more context, here are just a few of those individuals.
Keith Connor is a very famous British athlete in the triple jump and an SMU Hall of Famer himself.
Well, he’s basically the one that recruited me to Dallas, Texas.
I still remember him selling me on the idea to go to SMU.
“Robert, you’re going to go over to America, but I will also be there to look out for you while you’re there. So you’re not going to a place completely alone in some strange area where you have no one there with you,” he told me.
This was a guy I watched on television, when he was competing at the Commonwealth Games.
And there he was talking to me about coming over to America and looking after me.
I just thought of my goals of becoming good enough to one day represent my country, which was one of the ultimate aspirations.
Keith was already doing that.
It was pretty surreal talking to him at that time and having him convince me that coming to America would be a much better opportunity for me than staying where I was in Britain at the time.
And he was right.
There’s no way my story could be told without mentioning my lifelong friend, Michael Carter.
He’s the national high school record holder in the shot put after 43 years and still counting — and my direct source of inspiration for when I was training at SMU.
There was a point when he was doing things that some people didn’t even believe was possible. Just being around a talent like that makes you want to push yourself to be better every single day.
Some would call it a friendship, but I just call it family.
I’m actually the godfather to all of Michael’s kids, one of which is the 2016 Olympic champion in the women’s shot.
It really is such an incredible family, and I’m eternally grateful to be a part of it.
Keith got my athletic career started at SMU, and Ted McLaughlin got me started in coaching. I became a coach because of a conversation we once had about me taking up that responsibility.
It’s something I never even considered until that moment.
But he convinced me that I’d make a great coach.
I didn’t know a thing about coaching, but through his belief in me, that’s the path I ended up taking. I’ve coached in /and for the United States, and for Great Britain, and I’m still a college coach today.
I never thought I’d be a coach, and it turns out that, that is exactly what I am.
For me, it’s always been about the good experiences and being able to pass on all the good stuff I’ve learned from people like Coach McLaughlin and from former students I have coached to others.
Just to have somebody trust you to make decisions that’s going to help them in their career and in their life is something that’s very rewarding to me.
One of those athletes that represents why coaching is so enjoyable immediately comes to mind for me is Jerry Donini, and there’s a story that goes along with this.
I actually called Jerry up one day, and it was in the evening time when people get all those random phone calls asking for business or something.
So, Jerry’s wife, Lisa answered the phone, and I asked, “Can I speak to Jerry, please?”
She said, “Who is this, and what do you want to sell?”
I told her who I was and explained that I used to coach Jerry and I just wanted to say hello. And she said, realizing that I am not a telemarketer, “No, no, wait! Please hold on. Hold on. Hold on. He’s going to want to talk to you.”
I talked to Jerry, and we promised to meet up the next time I was in town.
When I came to town to see him, his wife met me at the door, and she said, “Rob, it’s so nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. You’re the one that he keeps talking about.”
I was honestly a bit caught off guard when she said that. I asked, “What do you mean?”
She then went on about how Jerry talked about me non-stop and kept saying his success in life was a direct result of his association with me.
She said, “How long did you coach him for because you really made a lasting impression?”
I told her I coached him for almost a year.
Immediately, I could see the surprised look coming over her face.
“One year. That’s it? You only coached him for one year? No way,” she said.
She couldn’t believe those words.
But standing there and talking to her that day just reinforced to me the kind of impact you can have if you try to do things the right way, when it comes to helping a young man or woman in their career.
Just seeing Jerry and so many others go on and do well in life, that’s my real reward for doing what I do.
Whether I talk about my three Olympic appearances, my time in the Canadian Football League, my career at SMU, or my coaching journey, the number one thing that connects all of those experiences is the people I met and the connections I made.
The SMU Hall of Fame induction brings back a lot of those memories.
There are times when I’m left to wonder how I got so lucky to have so many amazing individuals in my life.
And I could go on and on about other people, too.
My roommate, Alex Buck, for example, also deserves special recognition. While he wasn’t an athlete, he immediately welcomed me when I first arrived at SMU and continues to be family to this day.
Going through some of those memories is a constant reminder that this isn’t just my story.
It’s their story, too.
The inductees will be recognized at the annual Hall of Fame Banquet and Induction Ceremony on Friday, November 4 in Armstrong Fieldhouse at the Indoor Performance Center. For additional information or for tickets to the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet, click here.