Olympic gold medalist and San Diego native Arnie Robinson Jr., who touched countless locals through his journey in athletics and youth mentorship, died Dec. 1 after a short battle with COVID-19, according to his son, Paul Robinson.
Arnie Robinson Jr. was 72 years old.
Robinson’s ties run deep in San Diego. He was born and raised near the communities of Chula Vista and National City, and attended Morse High School, Mesa College and San Diego State University.
“My father’s presence was just so pervasive, so big," Paul Robinson told NBC 7. "He embodied everything that a son could ever want in a father."
Robinson Jr. was an Army veteran and world class long jumper. He won his first USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships title in 1971, which qualified him for the Pan American Games, where he won his first gold medal. He took home a bronze at the 1972 Olympics, and a gold medal in 1976. He returned to the Pan Am Games and eventually qualified for the first-ever World Cup meet in Dusseldorf, where he earned another gold.
Paul said his father kept his professional accomplishments under wraps to his son until he was 9 years old.
“He’s just a very, very humble person," Paul said. "He didn’t wear his accomplishments on his sleeve, necessarily. He just spoke through action and behavior."
Paul recalled riding in the car with his father when they were talking about sports and his father told him he had won an Olympic Gold medal.
“[I was] surprised and shocked all in the same moment, and it was that night he showed me both his bronze and gold medals," Paul remembered. "He had [them] stowed away in the house apparently and I had no idea, but it was just a fascinating and awe-inspiring moment to hear that."
Robinson Jr.’s determination on the track was reflected in some of his toughest battles he faced later in life.
“In 2000, he was hit by a drunk driver and ended up needing full hip-replacement surgery," Paul said. "Four years after that. he was diagnosed with a Grade 4 brain cancer. He went on to survive that for 15 years, and what’s interesting about that is the median survival rate is three to six months."
Ultimately, it was COVID-19 that took Robinson Jr.'s life.
“If it were not for COVID-19, he would have easily had another 5 to 10 years,” Paul said.
Robinson Jr. first had coronavirus symptoms in mid-November, Paul said, when he experienced labored breathing and a cough.
Paul said he believes one of his father’s caregivers may have exposed him to the virus and is pleading with people to follow proper safety protocols to protect themselves and others they may come into contact with.
“Exercise diligence and restraint to protect your loved ones, 'cause you don’t want to be in a situation where you lose someone close to you over a careless belief,” Paul said.
As a way to honor his father’s legacy, Paul launched a GoFundMe page to support youth athletics in local underserved neighborhoods.
“This is one of the ways that we can honor and support his legacy, is by continuing his work,” Paul said.
Robinson Jr.'s son said he wants his father to be remembered for his determination and generosity.