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In the typical local Masters race, many competitors dread the sight of Justin Robinson. Looking back and seeing the rider nicknamed Big and Burly close in on you usually means you’re getting lapped.

Justin Robinson took the holeshot in the Men's A race. 2017 Rock Lobster Cup, Wilder Ranch. © J. Vander Stucken / Cyclocross Magazine

Justin Robinson took the holeshot in the Men’s A race. 2017 Rock Lobster Cup, Wilder Ranch. © J. Vander Stucken / Cyclocross Magazine

This year at Nationals, competitors will be grateful to see the Santa Cruz-based racer on the start line on Thursday, ready once again to lap racers and defend or improve upon his 2017 silver medal in the Masters 40-44 age group. Just three weeks ago, the former Worlds team member learned he might never race again. Robinson has raced cyclocross since he was a Junior on a mountain bike, been a mbmer of the World Championship team and raced in Europe, and has won the Masters 30-34 title in the past, and finished on the podium in 2017. A Nationals without Robinson doesn’t feel quite right, and today in Reno, Robinson will resume his annual tradition of lining up in hopes of bring home a medal just a few weeks after his streak looked to be in jeopardy.

At the final Surf City cyclocross race in his backyard of Bonny Doon, Robinson had a slew of new experiences. In the middle of his race, he found he couldn’t hold the bars. His body wouldn’t respond to his normal effort, and racers passed him by. His heart felt weird, and he dropped out, not just to take a rest, but to get a family member to drive him to the hospital.

Northern California-based racers Don Myrah and Justin Robinson braving the New England snow. Robinson still races, and landed two podiums in Hartford, 21 years later. © A. Yee

Justin Robinson has been racing Nationals as long as anyone. He’s shown here behind Don Myrah at the 1995 Nationals, riding for Yeti. © A. Yee

Atrial flutter was the diagnosis, and after a overnight stay in the hospital, he had his heart shocked through a cardioversion procedure to re-synchronize the chambers. He was knocked out for a minute, given a shock, and his heart was back in sync.

“I was only out for a minute and a half,” Robinson explained. “They didn’t close the door to the room. My wife was in hall, and she could hear the doctors calling my name [to make sure I was out], saying ‘Justin, Justin, Justin.’ She saw my arms fly up in the air when they zapped me, then they came down, and 30 seconds later I came to. It’s crazy.”

After coming out of the hospital, Robinson came down with the flu the next day, and wonders if the flu, racing, and not sleeping enough created the perfect storm.

“It’s scary stuff…the biggest of what I had is that the bloodt thickens and you get a blood clot and you get a heart attack or clot,” Robinson explained. He was put on blood thinners for five days.

Four cardiologists visits and a slew of tests later, Robinson was given a clean bill of health. He aced the stress tests, and one doctor said he might never experience the same thing.

Robinson obviously isn’t the only cyclocrosser to experience heart issues. Niels Albert famously had to call it a career, and Jeremy Powers this year experienced issues in Louisville.

Justin Robinson raced to a Masters 35-44 District Championship. © J. Vander Stucken

Justin Robinson raced to a Masters 35-44 District Championship. © J. Vander Stucken

So last weekend, Robinson was back racing at the District Championships, a tune-up for Nationals where he will contest the Masters 40-44 race and the singlespeed race, and took the Masters 35-44 title going away.

He is expected to be a contender for both podiums after stellar races last year, but for Robinson, he’s already winning by simply making the race.

For more from Reno, see our continuing coverage of the 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals on our dedicated Nationals page. If you haven’t yet, enter your Fantasy team for Nationals for a chance to win wheels and tires from Vittoria.