Robbie Weir crashed, burned, and recovered

The splinters were so big that Robbie could see them from the top of the ten-foot-high ramp. Despite his kneepads, he knew the wrong fall on the half-pipe would shred his legs. Still, he had to practice for a couple of hours every day before a competition. And anyway, skating had become more of a refuge than ever before — when he was sliding down the ramp, there wasn't time to think about anything other than the next trick.

Today he was planning to seriously work his slim seventeen-year-old body — drop in, pick up some speed, maybe try a couple of handplants or backside airs. He'd hang on the ramp's lip in a one-handed handstand with his board attached to his upended feet only by grip-tape, and then zoom past all the nagging thoughts — about his parents' marital trouble and the unfair hand fate had dealt his older brother Scott, who was severely disabled by cerebral palsy.

When he was skating a ramp and the music was cranked all around him (the Clash or maybe the new Bad Brains), he was devoid of attachments. He was simply Robbie Weir, one of the best skaters on the planet, soon to graduate high school, move to California, and turn pro.

Robbie Weir inverted
Colby Katz
Robbie Weir inverted
Even at age 41, Robbie skates every week at Olliewood
Even at age 41, Robbie skates every week at Olliewood

So he drew a deep breath, bent his knees, and let gravity carry him down the ramp's steep side. He could feel the bumpy splinters under his polyurethane wheels. He hit the lip, spun around, and then headed back down the other side. Did the same seconds later, gaining speed. He felt like he had enough velocity to launch from the ramp and into a backside air at the other end — and he did. Coming back down, though, with only fractions of a second to assess the situation, he could feel the board floating away from him. He knew he wasn't going to land the trick, and he didn't want to slide over the splinters.

So he made a rare bad skating decision: He pushed the board away and let himself fall ten feet straight down.

His left leg was straight when his feet hit the plywood, and he felt the knee bend backward. There was no pain — at first.

But then he began to feel throbbing throughout his whole body. He was on the plywood in a fetal curl when his buddy Cleo sprinted out to help. At first he refused to go to a doctor or hospital, thinking he'd feel better soon. But the next day a doctor drained a cereal bowl's worth of viscous fluid from the misshapen balloon his knee had become, and his plans were permanently altered.

It was January 1983. His parents divorce and his brother's arrest would follow in quick succession. Another big fall was still to come.

Robbie and Scott Weir were the daredevils of their West Kendall neighborhood in those days. Despite his disability, Scott, a wisp of a kid with a puff of long blond hair, drove a go-cart with great abandon from the age of twelve. Robbie, four years younger, with his mother's impish face and mischievous eyes, usually followed on a dirt bike. The boys competed to cut the sharpest corner or complete the most breathless jump.

"We were crazy," acknowledges Scott, now a 45-year-old with a goatee and an ever-present black Dale Earnhardt baseball cap. "But we had fun."

"We pushed each other," says 41-one-year old Robbie, who would look twenty years younger if it weren't for the gray hair. "He was my older brother and we depended on each other. He needed me, usually to help him fight other kids who made fun of him. And I needed him for encouragement."

Scott often prodded Robbie to greater recklessness. One day in 1974, for instance, the little brother jumped off the roof using a beach umbrella as a parachute. That stunt ended in a trip to the hospital to treat some relatively minor injuries. Scott guffaws madly when he remembers it today.

In 1977, at age eleven, Robbie was sitting in his front yard tinkering with a dirt bike when he saw a new neighbor doing something strange. The kid had long hair parted in the middle and smashed down with a headband. His striped socks were pulled up to his kneepads. "He looked like a weird ninja or something, doing some martial arts out in the street," Robbie remembers. "It looked like he was floating."

Twelve-year-old Robert Rodrigues was freestyling on a skateboard, spinning, moonwalking, and doing nosewheelies. Robbie didn't know much about it, but he wanted in.

"I remember it so clearly; it obviously made an impression on me," he remembers. "It just looked like a lot of fun."

Robbie's doting mother Anne, a native of Loch Lomond, Scotland, bought his first board within a week. She also donated an old couch she was planning to throw out and some rotting plywood for Robbie's first ramp. It was a simple construct. "I basically leaned the plywood on the couch, then laid out another sheet of wood like a runway," Robbie says. "That was it. The idea was to start at the top and try to go as fast as possible."

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