Robert Boudwin, Memorial Hermann Athlete
Competing for a Good Cause
Robert Boudwin has a calling: raise awareness for the lifesaving gift of organ donation.
As Clutch, the Houston Rockets' well-known giant teddy bear who is the team's much-loved mascot, Robert also lives out his calling: hilarious mischief-making to the delight of his legions of fans.
Now, Robert and his character, Clutch, are embarking on a unique journey to learn that anything is possible when they awaken their inner personal IRONMAN.
Robert's passion for organ donation – stemming from his dad receiving a lifesaving lung transplant in 2012 – will be on display while training for the 2016 Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas Triathlon, when he tackles his first IRONMAN.
Robert's dad, Paul, had been battling idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis for several years and in 2012 his health began to rapidly decline. Without a double lung transplant, his dad’s survival chances were slim.
Hope came thanks to Ian Heidemann, who had registered as an organ and tissue donor. Ian was in a tragic car accident in Fort Worth, Texas, and due to his generous decision to be a donor, he saved five lives, including Paul's.
"Organ donation saved my dad's life," says Robert, "and one way I can show my gratitude is to raise awareness whenever I can." His dad is now more than three years post-transplant and is in good health and enjoying his young grandsons.
Running Gives a Sense of Purpose
"Running helps many of us work through issues and discover a new sense of purpose."
"When my dad was so sick, I turned to running as a way to focus on something other than the constant fear for my dad," Robert recalls. "I needed to have a sense of control over something when I had no control over what my dad was going through. The uncertainty about his future was very difficult to face."
Robert finds there is a common thread among runners. "Running helps many of us work through issues and discover a new sense of purpose."
Robert's sense of purpose comes from raising awareness and support for organ and tissue donation, and he participates in many races, often in organ tissue awareness shirts or in full Clutch costume. That means Clutch ran the 2014 and 2015 Aramco Houston half marathons, and he has ridden a bicycle in the MS 150 fundraising event, to name a few.
Running as Clutch adds a different dynamic to any race. "Wearing the full gear is like carrying 20 pounds, and then when you finish the event your sweat-logged suit has turned into 30 pounds," he explains.
Positive Strength Through Mental Energy
While Robert won’t be competing in the upcoming Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas Triathlon as Clutch, he is training in costume to be better prepared.
"People have tremendous respect for the IRONMAN because it is one of the most difficult one-day sporting events," he says. "Only 900,000 people worldwide have actually done it because of the enormity of the challenge. I want to prove to myself that I have the positive mental energy to achieve my goal to finish."
The IRONMAN Triathlon centers around a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run. Raced in that order, the events must be completed within 17 hours to earn the much-coveted title of IRONMAN.
He admits that he has never done long-distance swimming and that part will be his biggest challenge, and he thinks the weather may be a big factor also.
"I will monitor my lifestyle choices for the next several months and find time to train, and get proper rest and nutrition," says Robert, age 41.
That means one of the biggest challenges for Robert/Clutch to overcome will be to juggle a busy work schedule, family responsibilities with young children and training for the IRONMAN.
Having entertained Houstonians and fans throughout the NBA for 21 years, he performs at every Houston Rockets’ home game in Toyota Center, as well as making about 300 additional appearances during the year, often wearing a LifeGift T-shirt.
"This is the only job I have ever had," Robert admits, "and it was my first job out of college." While a student at the University of Delaware, he helped create the school’s popular Blue Hen mascot, which paved the way for him to create the lovable Clutch, with his over-the-top showmanship.
Clutch is no stranger to accolades and he was named the Number 1 mascot in the NBA twice and was inducted into the NBA Mascot Hall of Fame in 2006.
"Go Daddy Go"
"I believe we are all stronger than we think we are and we can do more than we think we can. That is what IRONMAN is all about."
"When I ran my first marathon in Houston in January 2012," Robert recalls, "I thought it was a herculean task. How could I accomplish a 26.2-mile race? When I finished in 3:46, it was a very emotional experience. I was overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of the moment and I felt like I could take on the whole world."
The IRONMAN "is not about just physical endurance and mental strength, but also believing anything is possible," he says. "I believe we are all stronger than we think we are and we can do more than we think we can. That is what IRONMAN is all about."
He knows he can’t do this without the support of his wife, Amy; six-year-old twins Luke and Jack; and stepdaughter, Ashley. "They are my biggest fans and give me a huge boost of energy when I run. Amy was the first person to put the IRONMAN idea in my head and she makes me believe I can do this. Hearing my kids shout 'Go, Daddy, Go' gives me an unbelievable boost."
The Heidemann family holds a special place in the Boudwin family’s heart and they keep in touch. “Ian’s parents, Rob and Janis, are loving and gracious and they are proud of their son’s decision to register as an organ donor,” says Robert. Whenever possible, the Heidemanns cheer for Robert at races.
Robert raises funds and makes appearances on behalf of LifeGift, the designated organ procurement organization for North, Southeast and West Texas, (where he is on the board) and he volunteers with Nora’s Home, which offers transplant patients and their families an affordable place to stay while awaiting transplantation.
"Every day in the U.S., more than 75 people receive organ transplants," explains Robert.
"Countless others receive lifesaving tissue transplants but the reality is that hundreds of
thousands wait for lifesaving organs across the country and 18 people die every day waiting."
Robert's personal motto – If there is a will, there is a way – will inspire him during the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Texas Triathlon – and so will Ian Heidemann.
It's time to discover "What is your IRONMAN?" What is your sense of purpose or an obstacle that you want to overcome?