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Remembering Callum Robinson, 1991-2024

Remembering Callum Robinson, the Big Koala with an Even Bigger Heart

May 10, 2024
Phil Shore

Someone recently sent Adam Sear a photograph. It was from the summer of 2023 when the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse associate coach was at the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego. Sear is sitting in the bleachers, surrounded by green and yellow, rooting on Australia — the team he represented in the 2010 world championship — in the bronze medal game.

When you first look at the photo, though, it isn’t Sear you notice. The first thing your eye is drawn to is the man sitting next to him with the shoulder-length hair and mouth open, mid-laugh.

That’s Callum Robinson, a former Major League Lacrosse and Premier Lacrosse League defenseman and one of Sear’s closest friends.

The image perfectly describes how most saw Robinson. He commanded their attention when he walked in the room. They all loved his laugh, which consistently echoed in locker rooms at Stevenson University and with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, Atlanta Blaze, Atlas LC and Australian national team.

“He had an energy that drew you to him,” Sear said. “We used to go down to OB Beans, which is right on the main drag there in Ocean Beach (California), and you just walked down the street with him. I don’t know if he used to notice it, people turning their heads completely out of the direction they were walking just to catch sight of the dude. Whether it was — I can't believe I’d fill his head right now — his rugged good looks or just simple stature, he was just something else, man.”

It’s pictures like this and the videos of Robinson laughing that Sear has watched repeatedly in the past week since Robinson’s death. His body, as well as those of his brother, Jake, and friend, Jack Carter Rhoad, were found after their disappearance on a surfing trip in Baja California, Mexico. Authorities believe they were shot while attempting to prevent the theft of their pickup truck. Three suspects are in custody.

While family, friends, coaches and teammates have mourned the three young men, there has also been an outpouring of messages showcasing how many lives the lacrosse star among them, “The Big Koala,” touched during his 33 years of life.

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On the field, Robinson achieved great success. He played for Australia in the 2014 and 2018 world championships. At Stevenson, he was a three-time USILA All-American, including a first-team selection in 2015. He also helped the Mustangs win the NCAA Division III championship in 2013. He was selected by the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the 2015 MLL draft and played six seasons professionally.

At 6-foot-5, he was an intimidating presence on the field.

“I remember going up against him. He’s got jacked arms, he’s not wearing any elbow pads,” recalled Kieran McArdle, who played against Robinson in MLL before teaming with him on Atlas in 2019. “Me coming out of St. John’s, I didn’t know a ton of players. Him coming out of Stevenson, I didn’t really know who he was at first, but he made his presence known early on.”

“There are not a lot of people that are so physically imposing,” said Greg Gurenlian, a former MLL MVP and two-time U.S. national team player who first ran into Robinson at the 2014 world championship. “Him and Scott Rodgers are the only two times in my life I have been physically taken aback by someone in person.”

A talented and physical defender, one of Robinson’s biggest strengths was his ability to raise spirits when things got tough on the field.

In 2019, the Atlas finished fifth out of six teams and lost its final game — one for the top pick in the draft — by 18 goals. The following season, the Atlas finished last in the league after winning only one game in the abbreviated bubble season during the pandemic.

McArdle said he couldn’t remember Robinson ever having a bad day and that he always brought joy to the team’s locker room.

“He was the leader in that aspect,” he said. “He made you think about life outside of lacrosse and how a regular season loss, at the end of the day, isn’t the worst thing. There’s always a positive light at the end of a game.”

Sear remembered when Robinson first reached out to him. While he knew of him because they both played for the Wembley Lacrosse Club in Western Australia, they never got the opportunity to play together. Robinson said on several occasions Sear played a large role in his inspiration to play lacrosse.

When Sear graduated from Maryland, Robinson called him, asking him what he needed to do and what it took to play college lacrosse in the United States. The two agreed to meet over drinks at a restaurant in Perth.

Sear saw something different in Robinson from the start. They would talk on the phone, and Robinson would wake up at 4 in the morning to make it convenient for Sear with the time difference. He advocated for himself, making sure he didn’t get forgotten after the first or second email to a coach.

Seeing Robinson reach the levels of success he did made Sear proud.

“He made the most of an opportunity,” he said. “Coming over here and being a part of this community as an Australian, there is a great sense of gratitude and perspective. Lacrosse is a beautiful sport and a beautiful community back home, there's no doubt about it. But Cal and I could both remember having two balls at practice. If you're shot and missed, the whole practice would have to stop because the guy’s got to stop and run 100 yards to go pick it up and then bring it back to the six-on-six. That perspective for me and for a guy like Cal has always driven what we’ve done. It’s a mindset.”

While intense on the field, Robinson had a switch he would flip when the pads came off. He would go from a frightening menace chasing down attackers to an affable, jovial giant whose personality was larger than life.

Spencer Ford, who was part of the front office in Chesapeake when the Bayhawks drafted Robinson and then brought him to the Atlanta, said the first thing he thinks of when he hears Robinson’s name is “a great big hug you’d get from your grandpa — something that’s genuine that you know, without saying a word, means something.”

Brent Hiken was Robinson’s teammate both at Stevenson and with the Blaze. Hiken’s first year with the Mustangs as a transfer from Essex Community College was also Robinson’s first year there. He remembers the rumors about a “mammoth of a human being” coming from Australia. Hiken was in the weight room when Robinson walked in for the first time wearing a tank top and “really short” jean shorts.

At first, Hiken couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but the two became quick friends. He said that wasn’t unique, though; Robinson immediately became everybody’s friend at Stevenson. He saw the same thing happen with the Blaze.

“He makes a difference everywhere he goes, and people just want to be around him,” Hiken said. “It was almost hard to get enough time with him when you were on the Blaze because there were so many people that wanted to spend time with him.”

While seemingly everyone wanted to be with the charismatic Robinson, he always made time for the people closest to him. Gurenlian remembers visiting Baltimore when Robinson lived there and if Robinson was out bartending or having a drink, Gurenlian went out of his way to meet him. Hiken remembered canceling return flights at the end of trips because Robinson would convince him to stay longer.

About a year after Ford became the Blaze general manager and Dave Huntley was the head coach, Robinson signed a new MLL contract. Ford brought him to the Blaze, and Robinson was enthusiastic.

“You want to do this, Mate? I’m in,” he remembered Robinson telling him. “If it’s you and Hunts, I’m in.”

Sear and Robinson created “Aussie Thanksgiving,” where they would get together with Hannah Nielsen, Jen Adams and Dana Dobbie at a destination spot for the holiday. All of them lived at Adams’ townhome in Baltimore at some point.

Justin Buonomo, another teammate and friend of Robinson’s on the Mustangs, recalled a recent interaction with Robinson when the two were at Stevenson for the 2013 national championship ring ceremony.

He recalled seeing Robinson at the cocktail hour surrounded by people, including the university president. He walked toward Robinson, but in addition to the people he was talking with, Buonomo said there were two additional groups of people between the former teammates. That didn’t matter when Robinson turned and saw him, however.

“He was like, ‘J-Bones! What’s up, man? Get over here!’” he said. “He never was too cool to sit there and spend time with somebody, to look them in their eye and make them feel important no matter who they were. He treated the janitor with the same respect that he treated the CEO.

“His humility is something people can really take away,” he added. “He was incredible at what he did, lacrosse-wise. He was amazing in the classroom. But he was just such a normal and relatable human being off the field.”

Something beautiful will come from this. I'm waiting for that sign.

Adam Sear, Team Australia

Normal and relatable, but also the life of the party.

Buonomo remembered one of the first times he hung out with Robinson at a party, he did a shoey where he took off his shoe — or, sometimes, someone else’s shoe — poured a beer in it and drank from it.

Hiken also remembered one instance when the two were with the Blaze and went all out to make sure the team had a great night out during training camp.

“[Ford] told us to go out because it was supposed to pour rain the next day, and most guys had flights at noon,” he said. “We already knew we made the team. I knew there wasn’t another faceoff guy on the roster, and Callum knew he was in the starting lineup Week One. We took it as a great opportunity to do some team bonding.

“Most of our team went to leave the bar that night,” he added. “The two of us figured the easiest way to get everybody to stay was just us hopping on the mechanical bull and giving everybody a show.”

It never rained the next day, and head coach Liam Banks had the team practice before everyone departed.

The life of the party. A one of one. The most interesting man in the world. Robinson left an incredible impression on those that had the privilege of knowing him. They saw an individual who lived a full life, one they were all able to take something to learn from.

“He was always happy and always smiling,” said Tucker Durkin, who played with him for two years on the Atlas. “Nothing ever felt like a chore. Whether that was being nice to somebody or having the opportunity to play lacrosse, he did it with a ton of joy, a ton of love in his heart. He really was a guy that was very present and very happy, treated everyone with respect and never took anything for granted.”

For more proof of how beloved Robinson was, a GoFundMe had been created to support his parents, Martin and Debra, to pay for expenses regarding logistics such as flights to and from Mexico, lodging, meals, transportation of the bodies home and memorial services.

As of Thursday morning, the fundraiser had generated more than 4,000 donations and nearly $325,000.

Sear said the way Robinson touched so many lives was a testament to his parents.

“Deb and Marty are two special people, too,” he said. “Allowing him to feel and want and experience emotion and those types of things, but at the same time, also instilling this really hard drive and work ethic in him.”

While Robinson is no longer with everyone in person, Sear believes the spirit with which he lived his life will carry on in a new legacy.

“Something will come of this that is so beautiful and so special,” he said. “I don’t know what that is, or who’s going to do it, but those three guys are going to put something our way. Something beautiful will come from this. I’m waiting for that sign myself.”