By Richard Rhinehart
August 13, 2014, Holbrook, New York – Actor Robin Williams told World T.E.A.M. Sports CEO and President Jeff Messner that he had one condition for his participation in the non-profit’s 2010 Sea to Shining Sea bicycle ride. He would attend the ride’s start in San Francisco, not for his personal gratification or for media coverage, but to honor the participating injured veterans.
“During the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea, Robin attended the pre-ride dinner and then joined the group for the first day’s ride,” said current World T.E.A.M. Sports CEO and President Van Brinson, who rode the cross-country ride as one of the team leaders. “He was as funny on the bike as he was on the screen and as approachable.”
Ambassador Paul Bremer, a lifetime State Department employee who rode the Sea to Shining Sea, remembers Williams participating in the ride in his 2011 book, “From Sea to Shining Sea: Biking Across America with Wounded Warriors.”
“Robin Williams, who had attended the send-off dinner at the Presidio the night before, made good his promise to join the group at our first water stop across the bridge in Sausalito. Williams has often traveled overseas to entertain American troops in war zones and as we rode northwest, he amused our riding group with the wise cracks, constant comments and the instant repartee for which he is famous. He proved to be an experienced and engaging riding partner for 15 miles when we arrived at our next water stop.
“On the first day we encountered our first hills shortly after Williams joined us in Sausalito, enough to challenge some of the riders, especially those who had not been able to train on hills. As a result, the ride group started to break into smaller bunches riding at different speeds.
“Williams left us at the second water stop, in Fairfax. He noted, as he headed off to find a good cup of espresso, that the previous hills we had ridden were ‘nothing’ compared to the ones we would hit just north of Fairfax, cheerfully adding that was why he was leaving us.”
Although Williams had insisted on his participation being a surprise to the participating veterans, the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea was not his first event with World T.E.A.M. Sports. Williams’ close personal friendship with actors Christopher and Dana Reeve, both World T.E.A.M. Sports board members until their deaths, encouraged him to contribute to the non-profit.
Williams “knew our organization well, as did his second wife, Marsha Garces,” remembered World T.E.A.M. Sports’ founding executive director Stephen Whisnant. “His first involvement was donating to our annual signature event – the Bicycle Auction. I always believed he connected that very first time because of their involvement and partnership with us and the fact they were on our board. All I had to do was mention Chris’ name and we had Robin’s attention.”
Whisnant recalled that Williams continued his support of World T.E.A.M. Sports in the coming years following the 1997 auction. “He also was with us for the kickoff of the first Face of America in 2000 which had a team leave San Francisco and one in Boston and converge in St. Louis. Robin rode with us that morning out of San Francisco and was recognized by Mayor Willie Brown – this created lots of press because of his attendance.”
Noting that Williams “donated a bicycle every year we asked him,” Whisnant called him “a significant friend to World T.E.A.M. Sports.”
“Mr. Williams was genuinely a nice guy and a friend to this organization,” agreed Brinson. “He will be missed.”