A partnership that has led to dramatic healing for an injured Conway man is the focus of a film that will premier at the Little Rock Film Festival on May 13.
"True Athlete," a nine-minute documentary, features Henry Hawk and Robert Robinson both of Conway, who have been working together for years to restore Robinson’s mobility following a serious four-wheeler accident.
Trisha Sossong of Morgan Hills, Calif., Robinson’s mother, said doctors believed her son would be a quadriplegic and would only be able to blink his eyes. A Conway resident at the time, Sossong knew Hawk from taking a fitness class he taught at Centennial Valley Country Club.
"He’s a world-class athlete," she said of the 77-year-old former coach who teaches five fitness classes in addition to training a handful of people recovering from injuries.
Sossong said her son did not have very good insurance, and it did not come close to covering the amount of therapy he needed to recover from his injuries.
"Henry said, ‘I’m not a therapist, but if you want me to, I’ll work with him.’ He came day after day, month after month, year after year."
Robinson’s injury occurred in September 2009. He was riding four-wheelers with his cousins on land belonging to his grandfather when he ran into an unexpected gate, Sossong said.
"His head was disconnected from his spine. He should not be alive. The doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said they had never seen anyone survive this injury. Robert had a traumatic brain injury, a broken sternum, all of his ribs were broken, he had a punctured lung, and both carotid arteries were torn. [Doctors] wanted to remove him from life support. Every doctor, every therapist said he’d never breathe on his own, he was never going to sit up, he was never going to talk.
"Henry gave his unselfish time. He never gave up. He brought Robert a long, long way. Eventually, Robert started being able to move his fingers, lift a little bit, sit up."
Hawk said the friendship between himself and Robinson has been the key to healing.
"Over the years we’ve formed such a friendship and a belief in each other. No matter what I’ve asked him to do, he believed that was the thing to do, and he did it. The friendship made it possible. I think that’s what you have to have to get the work done. The average person couldn’t have progressed the way Robert has progressed. He’s such a hard worker. He grew up that way, being a farm boy."
Robinson said of Hawk, "Whenever I met him, I knew he was a very determined person. For me to keep him working with me, I have to be determined too, or he wouldn’t have stayed with me."
Hawk said, "I’ve worked with a total of five (injury patients), but I’ve worked with Robert the longest. I tell them I want 80 percent effort or more when we work out, because if not, we’re wasting our time. I don’t treat them like invalids. I demand them to work. That’s how they improve. Some people think they can’t do certain things, and that’s not necessarily true."
Hawk said Robinson’s unique sense of humor is responsible for the title of the documentary.
"Robert thinks he’s keeping me alive. Robert said when I started working with him I was just a broken down old man, and he’s made me a true athlete," he laughed.
He added, "We have already discussed doing a full documentary involving the five individuals I have worked with and my fitness classes. We want to tell the whole story. We’re hoping by showing the progression of Robert that other handicapped people will see they can accomplish a great deal. After four years, Robert’s still showing progress. It’s said that whoever you are, whatever level you are at six months to two years (after an injury), that’s where you stay. That may not necessarily be right. It would be hard for some people to imagine what Robert does. He works extremely hard. If they don’t do that, it would be hard for them to see the progress he has seen. We’re hoping we can help others see the possibilities."
The short film "True Athlete" was directed and edited by Tyler West and produced by Bespoke Video, according to the Little Rock Film Festival website.