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Roh fills a gap

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Lindsay Robinson didn't know many people in the University of Michigan football training room. The daughter of then-Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Robinson was there to work, being pushed to recover from a traumatic brain injury.

Craig Roh had heard about Lindsay after conversations with her father during Roh's freshman season at Michigan in 2009. The player would talk with the coach about life as well as football. Now he saw Robinson's daughter for the first time.

Then-strength coach Mike Barwis was putting her through her paces. Roh walked over and introduced himself.

"I think I said something, like I do with most people, said something stupid," Roh said. "Like, 'So, you only have half a brain, don't ya?' Just something stupid to lighten the mood a little bit."

Lindsay laughed, immediately drawn to Roh's personality and easygoing nature. In a training room where the only women were Robinson and one of her trainers, Cassandra Baier, this became important.

Robinson felt comfortable with Roh. They became friends.

"Craig would go up to me, stretch with me and be like, 'So, Lindsay, your dad is so active,'" Robinson said. "He became my little buddy right away."

'Out of nowhere'

Lindsay Robinson played lacrosse at the University of Denver in 2001 and from 2003 to 2005. She moved to New York, worked in Columbia's athletic department and became a runner.

Life was good. In July 2009, months after her father took the job at Michigan, her balance started to falter. She felt numbness on the right side of her body.

She went to doctors. They diagnosed her with a cavernous malformation, abnormally shaped blood vessels that group together and can cause bleeding on the brain.

"They bled and oozed and formed a little sac of fluid and blood and it ended up growing bigger and bigger," Lindsay said. "And popping through my brain stem."

Doctors tried other methods of treatment, but nothing worked. Robinson became worse and declined rapidly. On Sept. 23, 2009, she underwent brain surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan to fix the injury and try to save her life.

Parents never expect to have their children go through something like this, especially not when they are young, healthy and successful.

Greg Robinson was hundreds of miles away in Michigan, preparing his defense for Indiana. He had to get to New York. Family became more important than football.

The father flew to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on a private plane arranged for him by Michigan the night before the surgery. The day of the surgery he missed his first practice in many years.

"She never had an issue with anything in her life," Robinson said. "She was a very good athlete and she could run. She was a good lacrosse player.

"That was it. It was out of nowhere, really."

Lindsay spent the next two months in Columbia Presbyterian and rehabilitation hospitals in the New York area. Her mother, Laura, commuted almost weekly from Ann Arbor to be with her daughter, while Greg stayed behind and tried to coach and stay focused on what he was hired to do -- create a defense that matched the offensive power the Wolverines had started to show.

On weekends, Laura returned to Ann Arbor, watched her husband coach, and headed back to New York again.

Lindsay had good and bad days in New York. Doctors weren't sure what her recovery would be like and whether she could come close to making a full one. Her dad did his best to compartmentalize his family's pain with his job.

"It weighs on you, but you have to focus on what you can control at the time and that's the way I had to look at it," Robinson said. "I had to coach. When I wasn't there with them, at least I was immersed in what I was doing."

By the middle of November, doctors felt comfortable letting Lindsay leave. But the independence she had, living the typical 20s lifestyle, running around the city and enjoying life, was gone. She moved to Ann Arbor to live with her parents.

Almost immobile, she had to relearn basic things like walking.

"I was basically in a wheelchair," Lindsay said. "And 100-percent dependent on them."

Michigan support

Lindsay returned to Ann Arbor in time for the end of Michigan's 2009 season. She couldn't do much, but her support system was there.

Her parents took her to outpatient therapy three days a week. Robinson worked out with her in his free time at the Michigan football facility, going for slow walks, anything to try and help her regain what she lost.

Barwis noticed and when her outpatient therapy didn't work as well as the Robinsons hoped, he stepped in and offered to help.

Barwis already worked with Brock Mealer, the brother of Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer. Brock had been paralyzed in a car accident, and Barwis took it upon himself to try and help Mealer walk again. Adding Lindsay would be no problem.

"It was just a matter of saying, 'Hey, Greg, I'd be happy to help your daughter if you want me to. You're a good man, part of our family,' " Barwis said. "His daughter, she thought it was awesome and Greg is a good friend and a great man and I ended up talking to her and she was all excited about it."

Lindsay understood the intense training under Barwis. As an athlete, she relished it. Barwis helped Mealer and she understood this chance to regain her independence, her ability to walk, her life.

This led her to meeting Roh, who struck up that first conversation.

"We started giving each other crap right away," Lindsay said. "You know how when you can read people and be like, 'Oh, he's fine.' I was able to tease him and he teased me right back."

Fast friendship

Lindsay and Roh acknowledge he didn't change her recovery path. That was the result of Barwis' plan and Lindsay's determination.

His presence, though, offered a sense of comfort. Other than Barwis' training staff, which was busy rehabbing her, and her father, she didn't know many people.

"Every time I'd see her in the weight room, we'd just talk and say hi and whatever," Roh said. "It was more just conversation, us two just kicking back and just having some good conversation."

Roh, an intensely religious person who had spent part of his childhood going on mission trips with his family to help rebuild houses, expressed an interest in how Lindsay's body actually would heal, how the brain and her muscles would have to relearn each other.

Their conversations were always light, about football or the trivialities of life, but Roh also kept an eye on Lindsay. He would ask Robinson about her progress, which was steady and almost immediate.

Lindsay made fun of Roh when he wore a "Calculus Camp" T-Shirt into the weight room, something Roh received after completing an intense study session for a high school test. Roh would hold his hands out for Lindsay to high-five him and then consistently move his hands around so she couldn't get it.

He watched and encouraged as Lindsay began to walk again. When she started with Barwis, she latched on to things to move. Her brain told her body to do things and her body would respond differently. The trauma from the malformation and the surgery made signals difficult to process on top of the typical atrophy and regeneration.

"The grueling mental and physical process and the amount of effort for her to create one movement was 10 times that of somebody squatting at their maximum," Barwis said. "So every day was trying, but she is a tough, tough person. Lindsay is a great human being, incredibly passionate, caring.

"She's tough. When I say she's tough, she's tougher than most football players ever want to be."

Roh became her cheerleader along with being her friend, pushing for her progress and encouraging her every step of the way.

The friendship was easy. Roh's personality made it easy and gave Lindsay someone her own age she could be social with in unfamiliar surroundings. His sometimes-goofy nature gave her a mental break from the intensity of healing.

"I let them do their thing a little bit, but my wife and I both were very appreciative because it was an upside for Lindsay," Robinson said. "He was how he is, kind of crazy and playful, and they'd kid and talk in their own little way.

"It was good therapy, I think."

Steady progress

Each week showed new progress. Robinson would come down to work out and sneak a peek at Lindsay working out, and he would smile.

"I noticed a change within weeks and with my thing, you peak, you plateau, you peak, you plateau with recovery," Lindsay said. "I just, it was very easy to see me peaking. Like every month, I would see that I was different."

It was rapid enough that by the time Michigan's coaching staff was fired in January 2011, she had improved enough to go on her own. It didn't mean the goodbye was any less difficult.

Robinson had to say goodbye to his players, and Lindsay to hers. One in particular.

"I was really sad to say goodbye to Craig and a couple of my dad's players," Lindsay said. "Craig being the main one because he is the one I got really close with. I was in there every single day until the end."

Life, though, moves on. Robinson and Lindsay both said they have not spoken with Roh since that day because they worried about it being awkward, but want to reconnect after his college career ends following the Outback Bowl, which will be Roh's 51st consecutive start at Michigan. Roh, too, wants to hear from them.

Lindsay came to Ann Arbor dependent on everyone. She left for New York -- signing a lease in April 2011 -- unbelievably improved.

She still has trouble walking, still has numbness on the right side of her body. She still can't drive a car, and there are days she gets frustrated. But Michigan, Barwis and Roh all played a role in giving her back a life.

Life moved on. Roh continued to start at Michigan and both Robinson and his daughter would watch from afar, pulling for the player who had become intertwined in their lives. Robinson moved back to California, where he helped out with a high school team this season and wants to return to coaching.

Lindsay moved to Memphis and got married to Jeff Kupper, the director of football operations at Memphis, in June. Baier, one of her trainers, was a bridesmaid.

"I gained back independence," Lindsay said. "I was able to live for myself, be in the city and all of that. It was good, really good. It was probably the best experience of my life.

"For what my life became, because of the injury, being at Michigan with Barwis and having my dad having exposure to him and all of that, it undoubtedly changed my life."