On a summer day not long ago, on the shore of Highland Lake, Skip Robinson sat down beside Jake Sawyer and cracked open a cold beer. The old friends toasted each other, then Jake said five words that well summed up the past five decades of their lives: “You made the right decision.”
In the 1960s, these two sons of South Portland seemed to be on parallel tracks to oblivion. Both had joined the military and enjoyed jumping out of airplanes and driving way too fast. Both were avid weightlifters with bodybuilder builds and zero fear of their fellow men. They both loved chasing women and raising hell with their buddies in the bars of Portland and Old Orchard Beach. And both were members of notorious outlaw motorcycle gangs: Jake had earned his Hell’s Angel wings with the famous chapter in Oakland, California; Skip was a founding member of what eventually became the Maine chapter of the Iron Horsemen.
In the early ’70s, Skip got off the road Jake was traveling and left most of that life behind. “He went his way — you know, being Jake,” Skip recalled, “and I went and tried to reinvent myself,” to succeed at “being Skip.” As Skip sat that day by the hot tub on his deck overlooking the lake, at the house his lovely and successful wife and business partner, Delores Robinson, bought years ago, it was clear that he’d made more than a few good decisions over the years. Still, hearing Jake say that meant a lot.
This month we’re taking a brief break from “Jake Sawyer’s Story” to let Skip Robinson tell his tale. But don’t worry. There’ll still be lots of mayhem, misadventures, and crazy anecdotes about prison and celebrities — not the least of whom is Robinson himself, a.k.a. Mr. Maine, Mr. New England, Mr. East Coast, Mr. America, Mr. World.
John “Skip” Robinson II was raised in the Redbank section of South Portland, out where the Maine Mall is now, in housing constructed for the men and women who built cargo vessels (the so-called “Liberty ships”) during World War II. Skip’s father, Johnnie, worked at the shipyards, as did his mother, Melva. “Competition is in the Robinson blood,” Skip told me during a recent interview at his lakeside home in Windham. “She won Miss Liberty Bell at a ball they had. She was beautiful. She was a knockout.”
As a shipbuilder for the military, Skip’s father could have remained exempt from active-duty service, but he felt guilty about that, his son said, so he enlisted in the Army, which made him a sergeant and a cook. “He ended up earning five battle stars,” said Skip, and took part in several historic actions, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. While riding in a Jeep during an Axis bombing, Johnnie crashed into a ditch and lost consciousness. When he came to, “there was a column of people going by,” Skip said. “It was the 101st Airborne. They said, ‘Come with us.’ So he ended up being in the 101st Airborne without going through jump school.”
In high school, Skip worked as a butcher at his father’s shop, Robinson’s Meat Market, and played several sports. He was a decent athlete, but nothing about his performance back then hinted at his future feats of physical glory. For example, in his first South Portland High basketball game, he got off the bench with the game nearly over and made two foul shots. He never scored again. “I’ve given seminars to pro basketball players,” Skip remarked with a chuckle: “‘I can make you jump higher, kids, but I can’t make you shoot more accurately.’”
When Skip graduated, he was five-foot-nine, weighed 132 pounds, and had no idea what his next move would be. A friend warned him away from attending a Maine prep school — “too strict, I guess,” Skip said — and suggested he do anything else, even join the Marines.
“So the next week I went down to the recruiter and he looks at me and he said, ‘If you go in the Marines, this is what you’re gonna meet.’ He takes the blotter off this desk and pulls out a Playboy magazine. He opens it up and he said, ‘That’s my wife.’ It no more was his wife, but I’m going, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’”
It was 1963. The Vietnam War hadn’t yet become the bloodbath for American troops that it would soon turn into, but it’s possible Skip’s father felt a foreboding. He wrote a letter to his son in which he proposed that if Skip stayed in the Marine Corp Reserve, rather than enlist for active duty, and came back to work at the meat market, he’d help him buy a Corvette. So Skip was soon zipping along the coast of Maine in a 1963 Stingray convertible, “just like they sing about in the Beach Boys,” he said with pride. “It was beautiful, midnight blue.”
Life was good, “but there was something missing. I needed excitement,” Skip told me. “I’ve always lived on the edge.”
There was a sport parachute group flying out of the old Port O’Maine Airport, in Scarborough. “The first time I jumped, I looked around and I says, ‘Man, this is great!’” Skip recalled. Then he looked down and almost projectile-vomited into his own face. Maybe this isn’t for me, he thought after that first landing, but a fellow jumper advised him, “Go right up and jump again.” So he did, and he was hooked.
“I kept jumping,” Skip said. “It was a bond, camaraderie. It was a club — it was like a gang, almost.” On weekends, the skydivers “used to party like crazy. … And we always had women with us, because they liked the skydiving and stuff.” Their favorite hangout was a bar on St. John Street, in Portland, called the Cameo Club. They’d push two big tables together and gather around it like modern-day knights, pounding beer after beer, Sir Skip clad in his sheepskin vest and bell bottoms (this was the late ’60s).
“We used to jump on New Year’s Eve, pass the champagne bottle around, try to drink it while you’re falling through the air,” Skip said. One Easter, they jumped with a live bunny. It was the rabbit’s last leap. “I think they honestly end up eatin’ it,” said Skip. “I didn’t, but they did. It’s like any gang — you get some crazy people in it, you get some pretenders.”
After over 125 jumps, Skip realized it was crazy to continue. “People jump thousands and thousands of times — never have a malfunction,” he said. “I had four malfunctions.” After landing in a tree (again), he finally quit and found a new obsession: weightlifting.
Why weightlifting? Well, the short answer — the answer for so many young men — is a young woman.
Skip was engaged to this young lady, but he screwed it up. Thinking she’d be out of town one particular night, he picked up another woman at the Cameo Club. But his fiancé’s trip had been cancelled, she saw them leave the bar together, then promptly cancelled the engagement, too. The next weekend, Skip went to The Brunswick, the hotel and bar on Old Orchard Beach. “They’re having a band and people are dancing and stuff,” he said, “and I looked and she’s down there dancing with a guy. That upset me. Whose fault is that? … I cheated on her, and she was a good kid. … But it upset me.”
A friend of his, Bruce Chambers, and another guy had set up a gym in a garage and called Skip a couple times to invite him to work out. He’d turned them down twice, but after running into his former fiancé a second time, he accepted their third offer. “I weightlifted seven days a week, ’cause I didn’t want to go out and see her or anything,” Skip said. “I stopped partying and just started weightlifting. I said, ‘Dammit, I’m gonna show her.’”
Of course, he never saw her again, but others began to notice that he was putting on size. One night at the Cameo, a musician in the band, who Skip knew from his skydiving days, casually remarked, “You look like you’re getting bigger.”
“That’s all he had to say,” Skip said. “Then I trained even harder. I wanted that next person to say I looked bigger, and then bigger and bigger.” His friends’ garage got so cold that they’d lift weights wearing winter gloves. Skip eventually set up a gym in his basement, and was soon joined down there by his dad, who also became a competitive bodybuilder, winning senior titles in Maine and Florida. (Johnnie Robinson passed away in 2010.) They’d train for a couple hours in the early morning, before opening the butcher shop, and Skip would put in another two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon. He’d buy bodybuilding magazines at the neighborhood stores and stare at the photos in disbelief. “I swore it was fake photography,” he said, “I says, ‘Nobody can get that big.’”
Skip’s new hobby was not a hit with everyone. While studying marine biology at Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (now Southern Maine Community College, in South Portland), he brought weights aboard the research boat and stowed them under his cot. “Then we’d hit rough water, and they’d roll to one side of the boat and then to the other, and everyone was complaining about the noise at night,” he told an interviewer for the University of Maine publication Ubris II. “They said they were gonna tie me to the weights and throw me over the side if I brought them on again.”
After earning an associate’s degree at SMVTI, Skip took classes at the University of Maine Portland-Gorham (now the University of Southern Maine). “The first two or three months, I walked around [campus], and I had to be in a gang,” he recalled. “I wanted to join a fraternity, so I looked around to see which ones seemed [to have] the most hell-raisers and partiers, and it was Phi Mu Delta, the orange-and-black jacket.”
Skip had been lifting for about four years at this point, and was several years older than all the brothers. As you might expect, the hazing of this muscle-bound Marine wasn’t quite as harsh as the treatment others got, though he did land in hot water due, once again, to this strongman’s weakness for the “weaker sex.”
Skip and another Phi Mu Delta pledge were in an elevator on campus one day when, as he recalled, “this attractive girl gets on.” This was the final pledge week, and one of the rules was that brothers-to-be were forbidden to speak to women. “She said, ‘You’re not supposed to talk, you know, but I won’t say anything.’ I don’t know if she was trying to hit on me or what, but we started talking.
“Jesus!” Skip continued. “That night, around seven o’clock, into the dorm comes [the sergeant-at-arms] and two or three other guys: ‘Get in the fucking car!’” Skip and his buddy from the elevator were blindfolded and driven out to an old racetrack in Gorham. “We’re wonderin’ what the hell is going wrong,” he said. “We’re like two days away from graduating.” The sergeant-at-arms finally filled them in: “You talked to my wife!” During dinner that evening, she’d accidently let it slip that she’d chatted with Skip and his friend.
“Oh, they were miserable to us,” Skip said. “They forced us to drink all kinds of shit. … We got paddled.” And the worst, they feared, was yet to come. “They always told you that if you screwed up, you were going in front of the Board, and the Board was all kinds of paddlin’ and it was disciplinary and they’d kick you out after.” He and his pal were blindfolded again and led into a room inside a Grange Hall. “They said, ‘OK, now you’re gonna meet the Board and shit is gonna hit the fan.’ They un-blindfold us: it was the acceptance, the ritual, goin’ in. … I think tears came to my eyes, I was so relieved. We were accepted into the fraternity and I wore the black-and-orange jacket proudly.”
In 1971, on his third attempt, Skip won the title of Mr. Maine. Back in those days, he competed in the physique contests and as a powerlifter. On the advice of a bodybuilder he met a few years later, an Austrian dude named Arnold Schwarzenegger, Skip stopped competing as a lifter and focused on his physique. But in 1972, he set three records in his weight class (198 lbs.) in the New England Power Lifting and Physique Championships, including a bench-press record of 425 lbs. and a squat record of an even quarter-ton.
In a 1977 interview for Maine magazine (the long-defunct periodical of that era, not the yuppie yearbook of today), Skip told Gunnar Hansen (yes, that Gunnar Hansen, who’d portrayed Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre three years prior) that he disdained the physique of some powerlifters. “The world record holder is obese,” Skip “snorted,” according to Hansen. “Have you seen the stomach on that guy? He weighs close to 400 pounds, so he’s lifting about 200 more pounds than he weighs. There are a lot of much smaller men lifting a better ratio, so I resent the fact he’s called the strongest man in the world.”
The first “proper” gym Skip trained in after leaving his parents’ basement was Martin’s Health Club, located on Fore Street, in Portland’s Old Port, next to what’s now Rosie’s restaurant and bar. There was nothing proper about the place. The proprietor, Al Martin, was a locksmith with a “very dubious background,” Skip said. “I could tell you some stuff that he did, but I can’t, ’cause he’s a friend,” he told me. “Al Martin grew up at the Boys Training Center,” the juvenile-detention facility in South Portland now called Long Creek Youth Development Center. “His mother dropped him off there.”
Martin, who infamously ran for Cumberland County Sheriff in 1994 (and got quite a few votes), would “walk around the gym in posing trunks [and] a weight belt,” Skip said. “He had a toupée — sometimes he’d wear it, sometimes not — with a headband, playing a guitar, singing Johnny Cash songs.” His locksmith business occupied the first floor of the building, and his gym was on the second floor.
One day Skip began ascending the stairs and saw Jake standing at the top. “I’d never met him before,” Skip said, “and he was impressive back then — long black hair, big arms, skinny legs. He says, ‘I’m Mr. Southern California.’ And I said, ‘I’m Skip — Mr. Maine, I guess.’
“I actually looked up to him,” Skip continued. “Everybody did, because he was the Hell’s Angel.” Jake was, by his own estimate, committing “about a felony a day” back then, selling hot cars and bringing strippers from the Golden Banana, in Boston’s Combat Zone, up to Portland to spend quality time with his pals. For extra cash, he and Skip and another friend of theirs, fellow bodybuilder Bob Penny, worked as bouncers. One night while they were on duty a huge brawl broke out, and “Jake’s just ready to nail this guy,” Skip said. Skip slipped on some spilled beer as he ran to Jake’s side and grabbed the only thing he could reach: Jake’s massive arm, cocked back to deliver the blow. “‘Let go, Skip!’” Jake bellowed, “‘I’m gonna kill him!’” (Skip didn’t mention what happened next, but according to Jake, the brawler was able to land a punch to Jake’s face because of Skip’s slip-up. God knows what became of the guy after that.)
It was Martin’s idea to start a motorcycle club, and it began innocently enough. “Back then, it’s like the Hell’s Angles,” Skip said. “You start the club, you just want to party and ride.” A small group of them sat around and brainstormed ideas for a name and an emblem to go with it (the club’s colors). “So I said — I got a pretty good imagination — ‘Al likes trains, so Iron Horsemen, the train with the head of the horse,’” Skip recalled. “And then I said, ‘The Hell’s Angels got this big, nice, white wing. No sense in reinventing the wheel. Let’s use that.’
“Sure enough, we have it all drawn up — beautiful,” Skip continued. There was a business in Fall River, Massachusetts, that made custom-designed patches for clubs like this, so Skip and two other members of the nascent gang rode down on their bikes to pick them up. The Fall River patch-makers were so kind as to sew the colors onto the trio’s denim jackets, or cuts. “We put ’em on,” Skip said, and got a bright idea: “Let’s go to Boston!”
“So we go to Boston,” he continued, “and we said, ‘Let’s go to a motorcycle place.’” To find one, “we looked in the phone book.” The biker joint was just outside the city limits. “We walk in. It’s grimy, grungy. … The guy comes up, says, ‘Can I help you?’ We just small talked. Then this other guy comes over and he’s got a leather jacket on, like a three-quarter-length leather jacket, and he said to me, ‘Are you packin’?’
“I looked at him and I said, ‘No, we’re not stayin’ over, we just come down for the day.’ And he pulls his coat away — fuckin’ gun stickin’ down inside. Old naïve me. He said, ‘I’m a member of the Devils Disciples. … You come down here showin’ those colors, you better be armed.’ We thanked him and all, we walked around, we had dinner and stuff, we were proud.”
With the notable exception of Martin, these aspiring motorcycle “outlaws” were generally not very dangerous people. One was a college pal of Skip’s who’d been the state tennis champ. Two of them were visual artists. One of the artists, a body painter (again, this is the Age of Aquarius), was nicknamed Snake, because he had a big boa constrictor. “He used to ride down Congress Street on his motorcycle with that [snake] hanging,” Skip said.
“We buried him up on the Western Prom,” he added, referring to the reptile. “In Western Cemetery. And we had a police escort all the way. Just imagine doing that now. We went in next to some of the graves and dug a hole, buried the snake. What happened was, [Snake] got locked up that weekend, and it was like in March and the snake died, because it was too cold. He was all upset. He went there Monday and the freakin’ thing was dead. I can remember we’re having the procession going down Congress Street, probably 10, 12 bikes, and [Snake’s] up front, steering with his knee or something, [and] he’s got this big dead snake.”
The massive motorcycle rally in Laconia, New Hampshire, that year was to be the club’s coming-out, “the first big function of the Iron Horsemen,” Skip said, but he had to work that weekend and wasn’t able to attend. He can still remember the sorry sight of the other Horsemen straggling back into town. One guy’s cycle was so beat up that he rode right into a ditch — “his handlebars fell off or something,” Skip said. “It was crazy.”
The gang gathered on the back deck of Skip’s parents’ house in South Portland and told him about the rally. “Awful thing happened,” they said. One of their members awoke early in the morning with a bad case of indigestion caused by the previous night’s binge, and went off in search of some milk. Another Horseman went with him. “Hell’s Angels saw the wing,” Skip said. “Not a good thing.”
The Angels grabbed the two hungover Horsemen, stripped the offending winged patches off their jackets, pistol-whipped both of them, kept one guy for ransom and force-fed him LSD, and sent the other back to his club-mates to collect the rest of the patches, which were dutifully delivered. That left Skip as the lone Horseman still wearing the original colors. He decided to take a stand. “I says, ‘I’m not givin’ up this fucking patch.’
“So I’m driving around Portland, South Portland, still sportin’ the thing,” he continued. The fateful, foggy day not long after that, when he drove to the Horsemen’s clubhouse for a meeting, is still clear in Skip’s memory. “I’ll never forget,” he said, “guy’s standing in the driveway with a shotgun, one of our guys. I go inside and Al Martin’s there with a .45 or somethin’ tucked in his waistband. I imagine Jake was there — he was always there [though not a member of the club]. We had the meeting, and they said, ‘Someone’s still riding around with the wing and the Hell’s Angels from Lowell are gonna come up and blow up our clubhouse.’”
“I remember the neighbors watchin’,” Skip said, as “two bushy, long-haired” Horsemen rode up to his parents’ house, took his jacket, and cut the winged emblem off with a big knife. The ritual was complete. Skip was out of the club. It was the summer of 1972, and Skip steeled himself to confront the most intimidating gang he’d face to date: a class of junior-high Munjoy Hill kids.
Schools and other prisons
The turning point in Skip’s life arrived when he got the opportunity to become a teacher. In the early ’70s, several prominent high school–sports coaches volunteered at the former Boys Training Center (then called the Maine Youth Center), and Skip also worked with those kids at the juvenile jail’s gym. “At Christmastime we’d volunteer to work Christmas Day or Christmas Eve wrapping kids’ presents for all the inmates,” Skip told me, then he abruptly stopped talking. We were in a storage shed on the lakeshore that Skip had made into a man cave, its walls covered in motorcycle posters, beer stuff, and photos from his bodybuilding days. This hulk of a man, an outlaw biker who spent six years in the Marines, was tearing up.
“That used to bother me, ’cause they couldn’t get home for Christmas,” he said, and took a deep breath. “OK, alright, compose yourself, goddamn it! Iron Horsemen! Hell’s Angels!” He chuckled. “See, I guess that was all an act, huh? It was. I’ve never done anything bad, except women.”
Anyway, the coaches had noticed that Skip worked well with the young prisoners. They suggested Skip apply for a job with Portland’s public schools. The job interview went well. The administrator hiring at Jack Junior High School said, “We need a disciplinarian and you look like you could be that type,” Skip recalled.
“It was hard,” he said of his first years teaching science and health to seventh- and eighth-graders. Students were ranked by administrators according to their perceived intelligence and academic abilities, “and if you got the lower [-ranked] kids and then you had ’em in the afternoon, whoa-ho!” Skip said. “They come back from the cafeteria and they’re all worked up. … It was up on the Hill, and it was tough. My first seven years was teachin’ up on the Hill. It was the [best] seven years I ever had teachin’. They still text me on Facebook and say what a wonderful [teacher I was], how fair I was and all this stuff, and it makes you feel good, you know?”
The students who attended King Middle School, in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood, were even tougher, he said. Skip taught there for one year of what became a 34-year career (he retired in 2006). His muscles were no match for their adolescent attitudes. “When you walk in and they see the muscles, and they’re goin’ whoa! — that lasts about two minutes,” said Skip. “And then after that you better have more than muscles! ’Cause they know. They’ll find your weakness and all that. But I did discipline through humor. And the kids would know when I’d get upset. I’d tell ’em. I’d say, ‘Look. Look at my face. Not having a good time. You’d better back off.’ And kids are kids. Not that I didn’t have some bad days, but I never can recall a bad situation. I’d have to really think back. Maybe from a parent! They were more of a pain in the ass than the kids.”
In a pinch, Mr. Robinson also had a few carnival tricks up his sleeve, like the ability to demonstrate a law of physics by bending a three-quarter-inch steel bar with his bare hands, or lying on a bed of nails while as many as four students stood on top of him.
Skip continued to share his knowledge with inmates, too, giving bodybuilding seminars at the Maine State Prison. On one visit in the late ’70s, Skip arrived after having just appeared at a Mr. USA contest. He and Miss USA had “hit it off,” he said, and she’d given him one of her bikinis, which was still in his gym bag when he went through security. A guard pulled the bikini out and said, “Skip, don’t take that in there! They’ll eat it!”
Skip knew some of the inmates from Jack Junior and the Youth Center. Unbeknownst to him during this visit, there was one inmate who’d told other prisoners that he intended to harm Skip because of some slight he’d experienced in Skip’s classroom. When Skip asked for a volunteer to help him prepare for his posing routine, this convict raised his hand. “He says, ‘I was in your seventh-grade science class,’” Skip recalled. “I says, ‘Really? Jeez, it’s great to see ya!’ I think I even gave him a hug. We go out back and I had him grab a towel and I pulled on it just to get the blood goin’ and stuff. And I put some oil on. I said, ‘Would you mind putting some oil on my back?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ So he puts the oil on my back, I go out and I pose, do the question-and-answer. And then they come and tell me” about the threats he’d made.
“The kid must’ve had a change of heart,” Skip concluded. “He found out that I was probably a pretty good guy, you know?” Well, either that, or he got an up-close look at Skip in his prime and realized the folly of even attempting to hurt him.
Skip’s innate good-naturedness and naiveté were also on display that day at the prison. In the cafeteria line, a large black man serving food complimented Skip on his physique and gave him as much grub as he wanted. Sitting at a table with the warden, Skip remarked, “‘Nice guy up there. What is he, the boss, or is he a guard?’” The warden replied, “‘No. They just shipped him up from Georgia.’ He had killed his mother and father, or something like that,” Skip said.
On his way out of the prison, Skip recognized an inmate working on the grounds who’d trained at the USM gym, which Skip ran for over a decade. “‘Hey, Skip,’” the inmate said, “‘Will you do me a favor? I’m up for parole. Will you write a recommendation for me?’ I said, ‘Well, why are you here?’ And he said, “Well, I got in a bar fight and the guy choked on his tooth and died.’ I said, ‘Oh, how unfortunate.’ So I write a nice letter.” Some months later, a member of the parole board approached Skip at USM. “I loved your letter,” he told Skip. “It was good. Now, let me tell you why he was in there.” According to Skip, “he got in an argument with his girlfriend and chopped her up. I think it was an argument over a TV station. You can’t make this shit up!”
Skip’s professional bodybuilding career took off in the early ’70s when a photographer saw him at a competition in Boston. Although Skip placed second, this photographer told him he had more potential than any other contestant that day. He bought Skip a plane ticket to California, where he’d get to meet and train with the top musclemen of the era, including Schwarzenegger, and the power players in that scene, like legendary muscle-mag publisher and entrepreneur Joe Weider. The photographer’s name was Ed Connors, an early owner and franchiser of Gold’s Gym.
Connors became Skip’s sponsor during this period, which mostly involved springing for air fare. Skip was making an annual salary of about $7,500 as a full-time teacher and trying to piece together side jobs during summer and vacation breaks. On trips to the West Coast and Florida, the premiere bodybuilding photographers, like Wayne Gallasch, would pay Skip $200 for a shoot. One summer, Weider paid him $100 a week just to work out and then talk to the editor of one of his magazines about how he developed different muscle groups.
Skip racked up an impressive list of titles between 1971 and 1986, and a bunch more when he returned to competition in 1994, after being sidelined by a shoulder injury (he stopped competing in 1999, when he was in his mid 50s). But those victories earned him little more than big trophies — there’s no real cash to be had in competitive bodybuilding. To get rich off your muscles, you had to follow people Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (the original Hulk) into Hollywood.
Skip said his big break would have arrived in 1977, when he was competing in the Mr. America show. Loni Anderson, Sally Field, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise were sitting in the front row. A couple rows back sat Weider and his star photographer, Russ Warner, who was there with his daughter. Warner’s daughter remarked to Weider that Skip resembled a young Paul Newman. While Skip was mingling with the celebrities backstage, Weider approached him and asked, “Do you have your Screen Actors Guild card?” “No,” Skip said, to which Weider curtly and knowingly replied, “Get it.”
“And I never did,” Skip told me. “As I look back, I’m so glad I didn’t, ’cause you get caught up in that shit up there, and you never know. I had a nice, stable life. I’d fly back, after having people ask you for your autograph, and then you come back here and you walk into the classroom and the kids say, ‘Mr. Robinson, you gonna give us homework tonight?’ I’d sign their detention slip and I’d say, ‘There’s your autograph.’”
Skip started Smart Body Fitness Consultants in 1986 and operates the training business with his wife, Delores, who is certified as a fitness and nutrition consultant. Skip said it was Bill Cohen, then a U.S. Senator whom Skip had trained, who came up with the name. Skip has helped several big-name politicians and other famous folks stay in shape over the decades, including the Portland-born actor Judd Nelson. “He’d get quarter of the way through the workout and say, ‘I need a cigarette,’” Skip said. “He’d go out and have a smoke and come back in. He says, ‘On these treadmills they should have ashtrays.’”
For his 2013 induction into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, Skip put together a scrapbook of his accomplishments since 1972. In addition to his lone film credit (a brief appearance in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron) and a stint as a fitness columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram, the long list includes work as a strength coach for the Maine Mariners and Philadelphia Flyers hockey teams, and the many years he’s coached youth and school sports teams.
His co-founding of the local Iron Horsemen chapter was, as you might suppose, not included in the scrapbook provided to the Hall of Fame committee. He quit the club shortly after he was hired at Jack Junior and “kept this a secret all the years that I taught.” (His outlaw biker days are not mentioned in any of the many press clippings in the scrapbook, either.)
“I never looked back at the Iron Horsemen,” Skip said. “Never went to a meeting. Never went to a party. Never associated with them again. I remember only once, a kid my first year [at Jack Junior] come up to me and he said, ‘My so-and-so uncle says you’re an Iron Horseman.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Do I look like an Iron Horseman?’ And the kid says no. And I said, ‘There you go!’ That was the only time it was ever mentioned.”
That being said, Skip has nothing negative to say about the motorcycle club, either, and remains on friendly terms with former and current members, who proudly display a glossy photo of Mr. World, “Charter Member No. 7,” in their clubhouse.
These days, Skip, who turns 74 this month, keeps an office at The Fitness Factory, a gym on Warren Avenue, in Portland, where he conducts 30 training sessions per week. Most of the slots are full. “I make more money doing this than I did teachin’,” he told me. I followed him around the gym one morning this past spring as he greeted every person he saw. He may not have known or remembered all their names, but he had an encouraging word for everyone.
“Just another day in paradise.” That’s Skip Robinson’s catchphrase. He figures he says it about 50 times a day. He’s not sure where or how he picked up the phrase, but guesses that he got it from his father, who was also his best friend, “’cause I’m a clone of him,” Skip said. It’s a relentlessly upbeat saying, delivered without a hint of irony by a man who was relentless in his pursuit of being the best and strongest Skip Robinson he could be. Mission accomplished.