Inspiring wrestler shares journey with Santa Rosa students
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 4:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 4:47 p.m.
Anthony Robles was born without his right hip bone and right leg 24 years ago. Ten years ago, by his telling, he tried wrestling and finished his freshman campaign as the worst prep wrestler in his hometown of Mesa, Ariz.
Anthony Robles will speak at Amarosa Academy at 10 a.m. and will speak at 6:30 p.m. in Tauzer Gym at Santa Rosa Junior College before the Bear Cubs' meet with Skyline College.
Then he wrote a little note to himself. Black pen on a yellow sticky note: "State champion. You can do it."
He carried it with him. Still does.
He found an equally committed workout partner. Together, they pushed cars for what felt like miles through his high school parking lot. They ran with weight plates strapped to their backs. In pain, Robles remembered a particularly apt motto: "The prize is in direct proportion to the price."
He went from worst to first -- going undefeated in his last two high school seasons and winning a national title. But still, no Division I colleges recruited him.
An honor roll student, Robles walked on at Arizona State University. Between studies and a job washing airplanes, he started racking up wins on the mat. He became a three-time All-American.
In 2011, he became NCAA national champion in the 125-pound weight class by defeating defending champion Matt McDonough of the University of Iowa, a perennial wrestling powerhouse.
Before that match in Philadelphia, Robles said he could feel the elevated mat shaking with the energy of the crowd as he fought back tears of nervousness.
"I worked too hard to get here," he said. "I paid the price. He can't beat me."
In 2011, he graduated from ASU with a degree in business communication and was given "The Jimmy V Award" at the ESPYs. In 2012 he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Robles told his story Tuesday morning to about 300 student athletes at Montgomery High School and again at Petaluma High School Tuesday night. Today, he'll speak at Amarosa Academy, an alternative high school program, before appearing in Tauzer Gym at Santa Rosa Junior College at 6:30 p.m. before a wrestling meet between the Bear Cubs and Skyline College.
This year, Robles wrote a book, "Unstoppable. From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became A Champion" with Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy. He visited Sonoma County as part of a book tour sponsored by Copperfield's Books.
He has appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." There is talk of a movie deal.
But his life wasn't always charmed.
His mom was 16 when she gave birth to Anthony. His dad had left. Poverty remained a constant throughout his young life.
But he was drawn to wrestling.
"I liked how you could throw people around and not get in trouble for it," he said.
It was only when he started winning that patronizing whispers of "He doesn't have a chance" shifted to a more bitter tone: "It's not fair, he's got an advantage."
Critics said Robles' challengers were forced to alter their styles to counter his massive upper body strength and couldn't pull off some typical moves because he only had one leg to grab.
Robles doesn't have time for it.
"I would rather them say it's not fair because I'm winning than feel sorry for me because I'm losing," he said.
Justin Aarhus, a sophomore at Montgomery who wrestles in the same weight class as Robles did when he won the national championship, said his accomplishments on the mat are phenomenal.
"He is a huge, huge role model," he said.
"It is so unbelievable," Aarhus said of Robles executing standard wrestling techniques with just one leg to use for power. "You can't do half the moves the other guy can. You'd learn to develop your own type of wrestling technique."
Senior Kiana Sherwood said she expected some clichéd, touchy-feely talk when she walked into the gym Tuesday morning.
"I thought it was going to be kind of cheesy and fake, but it definitely wasn't. He was living proof of real inspiration," she said.
Sarah Wikle, a junior and team manager for the girls' soccer team, said Robles' message had less to do with sports than with life.
"It was just amazing, plain and simple," she said.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.