My name is Bob Babbitt, and, even though I moved to San Diego back in 1978 and ended up co-founding Competitor Magazine and Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) while on the West Coast, I’m proud to say that I learned pretty much everything I know about life while living in wonderful Wilmette, Illinois.
We first moved into our home on Alpine Lane when I was 9 years old back in 1960, and most of the area around our neighborhood was pretty much wide open. I remember riding past corn fields with my buddies on my Schwinn with my baseball cards (who knew that those things would ever be worth something), bouncing ever so happily against my spokes and creating that magical not-quite-a-motorcycle sound that drove the pigs and cows crazy as we rode by.
We changed sports with the seasons back then and played football in the empty lot next to Larry Avrech’s house in the fall. It was street hockey in the winter and street baseball during summer. While I was definitely one of the weakest athletes on the block, my real skill came from my ability to get a game together.
I know what you’re thinking. How tough could it be to get kids to come out and play? Well, I’m here to tell you that the people skills I learned on the not-quite-hardscrabble streets of Wilmette became the backbone of my career and getting a game together was never easy.
I always started with Mike Geier because he was my best friend. It went down this way:
Me: “Mike, we’re meeting in front of my dad’s Ford Galaxy 500 in 15 minutes. Bring your bat and glove.”
Mike: “Who else is playing?” This was—and is—the million-dollar question that I always had to answer. What Mike was actually saying was: “I need to know that other people are playing besides me. I don’t want to be out there my myself.”
Me: “I’ve got Larry, Fred, Mark, Evan, Steve and Joel already on board. Grab your bat and glove!”
OK, so I lied. I had none of those other guys, but now that I had Mike on board, it became way easier to firm up the others as well. Plus, once you have a proven track record of getting people together, there is a bit of trust that comes with the territory.
I used that skill later in life when I first did the Ironman Triathlon back in 1980, and, even though there were only 108 of us on Oahu that year, I knew this sport was special and wanted the world to know it as well. Eventually I went to work for a magazine called The Running News, which, maybe because of my passion for this new sport, became Running and Triathlon News. In 1987, I co-founded Competitor Magazine to not only promote triathlon, but also running, cycling, mountain biking and obstacle course racing. The off-road event we created—the Muddy Buddy Ride and Run Series—grew at one point to 18 events and over 30,000 participants.
We created the Challenged Athletes Foundation to help out one friend and have now sent out over 26,000 grants and raised over $112 million dollars to keep challenged athletes in the game of life through sport.
I was honored to be inducted into both the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame and the Ironman Hall of Fame, and I love it when people tell me they enjoy the YouTube and Facebook interviews we do on “Breakfast with Bob” at the major Ironman events, and on our radio show and podcast called Babbittville Radio.
But the lessons I learned to build my career can all be traced back to a group of kids gathering to play a little street baseball in front of my dad’s Ford Fairlane 500 on Alpine Lane in the early 1960’s in wonderful Wilmette, Illinois.