HOT SPRINGS -- Today begins Bobby Geiger's 34th season at Oaklawn, and there will be more seasons because of his will, character and determination.
He's the director of gaming, which basically means he's responsible for every operation, which includes wagering.
He's made numerous friends over the years as he walked powerfully through Oaklawn -- usually smiling, always tall and athletic -- with time to visit those he encounters.
Now, an electric scooter sits outside his office door and a cane leans against his desk.
"When people see me on that scooter or walking with a cane, they are going to have questions. I just thought it was better to get it out there so no one will be uncomfortable," he said.
Bobby is entering his third year of fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's disease. He fights a battle no one has won yet, but there is no bitterness or anger. Not even frustration. He talks about clinical research and hope, but very quietly.
A deeply spiritual man, Bobby immediately turned to prayer when he was told he had ALS.
"I prayed one thing: that it would be the type that progresses slow," he said. "I want more time with my 9-year-old son [Landon] and my family.
"I used to be a gym rat, hitting it four times a week and mountain biking. Now, I want all that time with my wife [Dawn] and son and our new 2-year-old we took in from a troubled situation."
Until his family, there was mostly Oaklawn.
Bobby and his family moved to Hot Springs Village when he was 12, and he sneaked in to Oaklawn when he was 14.
"Part of the rite of passage for kids who went to my junior high," he said. He knew immediately he wanted to work at the racetrack.
He was 21 when he applied for a job as a ticket seller. The season was about to start, and John Searcy, the supervisor of mutuels, told him he had applied too late. But as Bobby was leaving he heard, "Hey Geiger, is your birthday Feb. 4? So's mine, you're hired."
"I got hired because of my birthday," he said with a laugh.
And the rest was blood, sweat and tears as he worked his way up.
When General Manager Eric Jackson invented Instant Racing -- which undoubtedly not only saved Oaklawn but also has made it one of the major players in the thoroughbred industry -- he asked Bobby to be part of his design team. The dream grew.
An irony of ALS is that it seems to strike able-bodied people. Before he became a gym rat, Bobby was a jock, playing high school basketball at Jessieville and three times winning the high school state tennis doubles with partner Eddie Oats.
These days, Bobby puts all of his energy into his work and family.
"The kids still expect and deserve attention," he said.
Director of Racing David Longinotti said Bobby's "dedication to task has never wavered."
Not long after his diagnosis, Kara Evans of the local Muscular Dystrophy Association chapter and Lara Blume of ALS in Wonderland sought out Bobby. Help, understanding and support came with them.
"I've truly been blessed with great support from my family, my church home group, everyone at Oaklawn, and Kara and Lara," he said.
He was on the phone earlier this week when this visitor appeared. The phone lit up numerous times during our interview, and it was obvious Bobby felt he needed to field those calls instead of talking about himself.
But today will be hard enough without a lot of questions.
For now and the immediate future, Bobby was very honest.
"My disease is progressing, thankfully slowly, but I'll know when it is time to step away," he said.
Until then, he helps keep Oaklawn running and taking care of his family.
Sports on 01/15/2016
Print Headline: Oaklawn pillar shaken, not deterred, by ALS