No Fear

In the wrestling and in life, Jamie Robertson always competed to win.
More often than not, he emerged victorious, although the definition of victory isn’t always clear-cut.
 
Sure, it’s besting an opponent and standing – exhausted, bruised, and dripping with sweat – in the center of the mat as the referee raises your arm to the cheers of the crowd, a scene that played out often during the 2004 Collegiate graduate’s lustrous career that included a 107-20 record, two state championships, and three Prep League titles.
 
Coaches and teammates (opponents and spectators, too) recall a courageous kid with a turbo-charged engine who never backed down from even the stiffest of challenges.
 
From the time he went out for the sport as a 7th grader, he brought uncommon dedication, tenacity, and grit to every practice and match. He wrestled with passion and abandon. There was no “quit” in his being.
 
That next year, when the varsity needed someone to wrestle 103 against an older, more experienced competitor from St. Christopher’s, Jamie, maybe 90 pounds, answered the call.
 
The gym was packed. The tension was palpable. Fearless, oblivious to pressure, and impervious to pain, he was in his element. Though he lost by decision, his performance portended a future of competitive excellence.
 
Jamie was as tough, pound-for-pound, as any kid could be. The more daunting the foe, the more he embraced the opportunity to shine, not boastfully or obtrusively, mind you, but quietly, humbly, respectfully.
 
As time went on and his reputation grew, Jamie became a team leader, one whose actions and bearing spoke more loudly than any rah-rah pep talk he could deliver to the troops. He went about his business with a smile and joie de vivre. He set the bar high for himself and his teammates. Simply put, he made them better. He made Collegiate wrestling better.
 
So where did this toughness and competitive fire come from?
 
Jamie is the second son of John and Fran Robertson (Collegiate classes of ’65 and ’69, respectively). Tommy ‘01 preceded him by three years, and Jamie took great delight in hanging with his big brother and his friends.
 
The action was often rough and tumble, sometimes pro wrestling, jump-off-the-shed-in-the-back-yard, figure-four-leg-lock rough and tumble, if you get the picture. Guys’ stuff, you know. Seemed like a great idea back then. Today? Eh, well, maybe not so much. But, hey…no regrets.
 
There was the time when Jamie was about six or seven that he busted his right arm messing around in the basement of his family’s home. The day the cast came off, he went next door and joined some kids roller blading down a steep driveway. So much fun! Until he took a tumble and broke his right arm again.
 
“You don’t even know how to roller blade,” John Robertson said.
 
“Well, Dad,” Jamie replied, “I made it down seven times before I fell.”
 
There was another time when Jamie was 13 or so that he joined his Boy Scout troop at Camp Brady Saunders in Goochland County.
 
Early in the session, a brown recluse spider bit him on the arm, causing it to swell quite noticeably. His parents were summoned and took him to the hospital. He pitched a fit. He wanted to stay. It was like, So what’s the big deal? I can handle this.
 
Active, gutsy kid, don’t you think? Casts? Stitches? Mere nuisances. He still climbed trees, zip lined, and tussled with his friends, despite doctor’s orders to take it easy.
 
Then, when Jamie was 20, just after his sophomore year at James Madison University, he fell one night in the Fan and hit his head on a curb. He was rushed to the VCU Medical Center with a traumatic brain injury, underwent emergency surgery, spent time in the ICU, then went straight to inpatient rehab.
 
A long recovery ensued, but Jamie never winced or submitted to self-pity. No more contact sports, his doctors told him. Ever. So he turned his attention to golf, which would become his athletic passion.
 
Even before he was allowed to dispense with his protective helmet, Jamie would repair to his parents’ back yard in the heat of summer and hit golf balls.
 
While recuperating, Jamie took classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, approached outpatient rehab with his trademark competitive resolve, then returned to JMU for the spring semester and ultimately graduated with a B.A. in business marketing.
 
Six years ago, while he was working in D.C., Jamie had a melanoma removed from his back. Scans showed no other signs of cancer. He was released and told to get checked regularly, which he did.
 
Jamie ultimately returned to Richmond, where he worked most recently as an account executive for Indaco Risk Advisors.
 
While living in D.C., he had met Carly Golliday ’07. They began dating and married on April 22, 2017.
 
Jamie had always had a kind, gentle, compassionate, spiritual side. He had a strong faith and was unfailingly loyal to his friends and family, but Carly’s presence in his life brought out a tenderness and sensitivity that he had rarely shown, even to those who knew him best.
 
In March 2018, Jamie returned from a long weekend in Myrtle Beach with an aching back. Too much golf, he surmised, but the discomfort intensified.
 
Sleeping became difficult – actually, any moving about became difficult – but he still went to work, still played golf, still enjoyed time with his friends and family which included Olive, his beloved yellow lab. Complain? No, not his style.
 
Ultimately, a CT scan revealed malignant tumors. He was admitted immediately to St. Mary’s Hospital. Though in pain and facing his toughest foe, he fought valiantly, remained upbeat and philosophical, and brought positive energy both to himself and to those who came to pay their respects. Even if he could sense their heartbreak, his attitude was, It’s OK. I’m all right. I’ll be fine.
 
On July 8, he told his Dad, “My body is defeated, but my spirit is not.”

That’s when his family began to realize what Jamie already knew: the end was near, but cancer, virulent as it was, would never, ever win.
 
Jamie passed away eight days later. He was 32 years old.
        
Saturday, friends and family will gather at Collegiate at 9:30 a.m. for the dedication of the Jamie Robertson ’04 Wrestling Room on the second floor of the athletic center on Collegiate’s North Mooreland Road campus.
 
It’s a venue that for six years in a simpler, more innocent time, when beating the Saints or Woodberry or Norfolk was top priority, Jamie received an education that would serve him well when life got real.
 
There will be tributes, of course, probably some tears, and no doubt a host of Jamie Robertson stories that will elicit smiles.
 
“When Jamie came in the door,” his Mom said one day recently, “it was like a breath of fresh air: like hope arriving, a sense that all will be well and anything is possible. That’s what we all miss.”
 
And will never forget.
 
        
 
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  • Michael Bland
    This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you Weldon.