Saving The Best For Last
Sept. 30, 2003
Upon returning home after competing at the Roy Griak Cross Country Invitational in Minneapolis, (September 27), University of Minnesota junior Martin Robeck picked up the phone and called his family to let them know how he ran.
But for Robeck, calling the family is not just one or two phone calls. He has quite the long list of people he usually tries to contact, which requires the unlimited weekend minutes plan and a charged battery on the cell phone.
After all, he has his parents to call, who are in his hometown of St. Michael, which is about 30 minutes from the twin cities. And then there's his brother in Michigan, and the brother in Ohio, and the brother in California, and then of course the sister in Georgia. After those phone calls, the only people that he has to update is his brother, brother, sister, brother, brother, sister, brother, brother, and his other sister.
That's right. Martin Robeck is 21 years old and is the youngest of 14 siblings.
"The oldest two in the family are my twin brothers," says Robeck, the last born of 10 boys and four girls. "They're 46 years old and I'm 25 years behind them."
In fact one of those twin brothers, Mike, has a son that went to high school with Robeck. Imagine this now...Uncle Martin is a senior in high school and walking along side his nephew, Ben, who is a junior.
"We were best buddies in high school. We just hung out like good friends," says Robeck. "I think it was actually more awkward for other people. A lot of times I would hear, "But you're his uncle?' That's just the way it has always been."
Family has always been important to Robeck, that's why he tries to keep them updated as much as possible on how is college career is going.
"I mainly try to call them after the big races," he explains. "Actually before the BYU meet (September 13) I had my little niece call me and wish me good luck. And she's only two. It's nice to keep in touch with each other because family just can't travel all over to see you compete."
Robeck is not the lone runner in his family by any means either. In fact, all 14 siblings ran track and/or cross country at one point in their lives. According to Robeck, approximately half of the clan made it to their respective high school state championships as well.
"I think 11 out of the 14 were distance runners," he says. "At one point, I had three brothers on a team at the same time, but of course I'm not old enough to remember that."
With exception of his three brothers and one sister that live outside the state of Minnesota, the remaining six brothers and three sisters live around the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Robeck notes that having family close to home allows for the holidays to be a fairly large gathering.
But you won't see him getting caught up in conversation when the food is on the table.
"The dinner table is usually pretty quiet during the holidays," he says. "If you talk, you miss out on the food. You have to make sure you get your share when there's that many people there. That's just the way it was when we were younger. It was eat now, talk later."
Occasionally now, Robeck spends time working for his sister Alison, who is employed by a small company made up of only five people. His sister and her company develop and produce antibodies, for which they have numerous patents for.
"Alison never went to school for what she does," he says. "She just got in early and learned as she went along. It's pretty interesting what she does."
Robeck is focusing his studies on a completely different major in environmental horticulture. He explains that the major is based on four different topics of emphasis and turf grass management and design are currently two of those four areas that Robeck is contemplating pursuing.
"I going back and forth right now," he admits. "I like the turf grass aspect because that involves golf course superintendents, athletic fields supervisors, and sod farm management. But I also like the landscape design aspect as well. A lot of companies out there are designers, but don't know much about plants."
While Robeck comes across as a laid-back, soft-spoken individual, the amount of drive inside of him is evident.
Robeck admits that he was a "late bloomer" as far as cross country is concerned. Because he's being involved in track as well, he often loses valuable training time for cross country, which forces him to catch up in the fall. He has shown improvement over his three years, including his performance at the season-opening BYU Autumn Classic. Robeck finished 28th in the event, but improved by 58 seconds over his time last year at BYU.
As his career moves on, and he starts thinking about life after Minnesota and cross country, family always seems to be top priority.
It somewhat has to be with as many siblings as he has.
But when asked what his motivation is, what keeps him going throughout the day, whether he is in the classroom, on the course running, or just being plain 'ol Martin Robeck, his answer his striking.
"My lucky number is 14, and most people think it's because my family has 14 kids," he says. "But I was actually the 15th child born."
You pause as he does.
You think, there's Martin, nine brothers, and four sisters. That's 14. Wait...that must mean...
"The 14th was a stillborn," he says quietly. "I always think of him. He was born in 1978 and I wasn't born until 1982. I have always thought that he will be there when I need that extra kick at the end."
You can't help but do the math.
There were 13 before him. The 14th didn't make it. And it took four years after the tragedy for Martin, the 15th, to complete the Robeck family.
You can't help but think how one handles being the youngest of 14, or 15 for that matter.
Martin Robeck has a good time with it and just laughs.
"My sister Maggie is the youngest girl in the family, and she always told me that our parents stopped having girls once they had her," he jokes. "She says that she was the perfect daughter, and that our parents stopped having boys when they had me because I was the perfect son."
But it could always be that "save the best for last" theory as well.