After meeting Bobby Hill, you cannot help but feel happy.
His zest for life is contagious. His desire to make the most of every moment; of every relationship is obvious. It flows from him as easily as Bobby hoists heavy weights above his head in Special Olympics power lifting competitions.
Bobby is all smiles when he talks about Special Olympics and his best friend, Sage Caswell, who is the current activities manager for the Anchorage-based program. Caswell has mentored Bobby for several years. They spend a great deal of time together with Caswell spotting Bobby as he lifts weights and walking the track to talk through Bobby’s goals in sports and life in general.
Caswell views Bobby as an athlete – he does not see the disability that qualifies him to participate in Special Olympics.
“One of the biggest things that stand out about Bobby Hill is his dedication to everything he does – whether it’s training at Special Olympics, playing sports, at an Aces hockey game or with his Dad. You can tell he’s committed to everything he does. He’s a very loyal individual, and you can see how that effects everyone he meets,” Caswell said. “It’s really infectious, and it’s really hard not to be happy when you’re around him.”
His Start with Special Olympics
Bobby started his relationship with what he calls “Special O” when he was seven years old. Today, thirty years later, he is a dedicated athlete training and participating in the Healthy Athletes Programs at the Special Olympics Alaska Sports Health and Wellness Center, a state of the art facility on Mountain View Drive in Anchorage.
“The one thing that stands out when working with Bobby is his sincerity,” Karen Cunningham, the Anchorage Special Olympics strength and conditioning trainer, shared. “When he feels an emotion, he feels it 100 percent. When he feels happiness, it’s not just happiness; it’s joyfulness. You can’t be around him without picking up on some of that.”
Bobby trains three days a week with Caswell in preparation for Bobby’s participation and competition in year-round Special Olympic competitions. Caswell advises him on fitness and healthy eating. Over the course of several years, their relationship has developed well beyond one of professional advising to a special bond that is an unbreakable friendship.
Bobby was born in the Philippines when his father, Bob Hill served in the military. They lived briefly in Del Rio, Texas, before moving to Eagle River in 1986. Bobby and his dad – who now works on JBER – live together in Eagle River.
Theirs is an inseparable father-son duo centered around the activities of the Special Olympics family.
As Bob explains, “Special Olympics provided Bobby an opportunity to compete, especially in powerlifting. We thought this would be a great challenge for him. Bobby has Down syndrome. The young adults that have Down syndrome have a muscle tone that needs constant working on and building up. We felt that would help with that. It has helped immensely.”
Bobby the Horseman
The Special Olympics program is not the only sports-oriented organization through which Bobby excels.
During the second period of a recent Alaska Aces home game against the Cincinnati Cyclones, the music to the William Tell overture booms into the Sullivan Arena as PA announcer Bob Lester asks the crowd, “Do you know what time it is? It’s Bobby Hill time!”
The fans begin to clap to the music as the scoreboard camera focuses on Bobby standing on the south concourse. He is riding a hockey stick with the miniature Aces mascot, “Boomer,” on its end. Bobby gallops along with the stick giving high fives to the fans as he passes by – all the while firing up the crowd and the team on the ice. His ride ends near the press area with both arms in the air, sending a jolt of energy into the arena.
Bobby has missed only one game during his tenure as the “Horseman” throughout the past 17 years. While waiting for his second round, a young fan about 12 years old approaches Bobby for his autograph. Bobby cheerfully signs the young man’s Aces jersey, using a sharpie to write the words, “Bobby Hill the Horseman.” They pose for a picture and a big hug. It is difficult to tell who was happier about the exchange – Bobby or the young fan.
Hall of Fame Induction
Bob Hill explains that because of Bobby’s dedication to the Alaska Aces, the season ticket holders voted him into the Alaska Aces Hall of Fame in 2015. A plaque with Bobby’s photo hangs in the Sullivan Arena along with other former Aces greats such as Dean Larson – also a 2015 inductee who scored 117 points in 68 games in the 1998-99 season – and Keith Street – another 2015 inductee who played 11 seasons with the Aces scoring 507 points in 308 games making his #8 jersey the first Aces jersey retired to the wall of the Sullivan Arena.
In his own manner, Bobby Hill is a sports champion.
Bobby was chosen in 2003 to represent the United States and the State of Alaska in the Special Olympics world power lifting competition in Dublin, Ireland where he was awarded two Gold Medals. He again represented the U.S. and Alaska in Shanghai, China, in 2007 and was awarded four silver medals in power lifting.
When asked how many medals he has been awarded since he started competing, Bobby paused, rubs his chin and states “That’s tough one,” he said. “Maybe 50, I’m not exactly sure,” he replied again grinning from ear to ear with that infectious smile.
Next Stop UAA?
Getting the news that this will be the final season for the Alaska Aces was heartbreaking for both Bobby and Bob. They now look forward to supporting the University of Alaska Seawolves hockey team. Bob has talked to Matt Thomas, Seawolves hockey head coach, and plans are in the making for the Horseman to make his debut at next season’s UAA games. Until then, Bobby continues to work out at Special Olympics, wearing his Fitbit to make sure he gets in 10,000 steps in each day. He and his dad focus on eating healthy and reading nutrition labels when they go shopping so that Bobby can stay in shape for his next competition.
Every Thursday evening after work, Bob and Bobby go to Odd Man Rush Brewery in Eagle River to catch up with friends, hockey players and coaches. Reid McDonald, one of the owners started brewing blueberry soda from blueberries he and his wife pick by hand. It quickly became popular with the customers, especially Bobby. One evening the brewery ran out of the blueberry soda and Bobby was giving Reid a hard time. Feeling badly, Reid pledged never to run out of Bobby’s favorite drink again. True to his word, on their next visit, Reid had three kegs of blueberry soda ready and waiting for the Hill’s to arrive. In addition, the soda was renamed, “Bobby Hill’s Blueberry Soda” in honor of Bobby. It’s written on the board above the bar in chalk, along with all the beverages the brewery serves. It is available for any other patron to purchase.
So, if you ever want to meet Bobby and his Dad, drop by on any Thursday evening at Odd Man Rush Brewery in Eagle River. Here is a suggestion for a successful meet-and-greet with Bobby: He draws quite a crowd. Get in line early. Attendance at OMR on Thursday’s has increased as all of Bobby’s buddies want to drop by to say hi and get one more round of that all too familiar big hug from their friend.
Editor’s Note: Dan Shepard is a photographer and videographer for the ECHO News. He is the owner of Daniel Shepard Photography available online at www.dan-shepardphotography.com. Be sure to turn on your speakers when viewing Dan Shepard’s “Digital Story” of Bobby Hill included in this post. Contact the ECHO News or Shepard to have your own digital story produced.