ASU's Anthony Robles in position for a move. (Courtesy of Arizona State Sports Information Dept.)
The native of Mesa, who was born without a right leg, is competing in the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
He's beaten the odds time after time, so a few more victories to close out a stellar career don't seem out of the question for Sun Devil senior Anthony Robles.
The Mesa native wrestles without his right leg, without which he was born. He gets around on crutches. And he wins, never using his lack of a limb as an excuse for any loss on the mat or shortcoming in life.
Robles is 23-0 in matches this season and enters this Sunday's final home dual meet with a 109-23 career record. It's Senior Day at Wells Fargo Arena, and after a few more road duals, the Pac-10 championships and NCAA championships for the nationally No. 2-ranked 125-pounder in his weight class.
"I've been wrestling in Arizona for nine years now, so a lot of the fans who watch me at ASU have seen me in high school," Robles said. "It's just been a great experience being able to wrestle out here in front of the home crowd. This Sunday I really want to go out with a show, I guess... just really give the crowd something to remember me by."
Not that they could ever forget. Nor could few who get the opportunity to meet the ever-positive business communications major. If Robles has anything to say about it, a lot of folks will meet him and hear his message of overcoming his disability to become a two-time (and potentially a three-time) All-American. Robles wants to become a touring motivational speaker.
"I'm working on that right now. Trying to develop speeches and practicing with small groups," Robles said. "Hopefully that'll be taking off once I graduate. I just want to be that person who can turn around and help other people achieve what they want in life and reach their goals, and I'm hoping through just sharing my story and some of the obstacles that I've been able to overcome, maybe that'll help them out in some way to reach their potential."
Without a leg, Robles would seem to be at a major disadvantage against opponents. But his upper body is bigger than most at his weight class, and his opponents struggle to find a style with which to go at him.
"One great thing about wrestling is you don't have to be the biggest guy or the tallest guy. It's really just about taking your strengths and capitalizing on them," he said. "It just comes down to your own style. It's about the styles matchup. That's something that they've got to worry about, not me."
Robles didn't start wrestling until he was 14, and he struggled with the sport at first. When explaining what he was doing wrong, the fact that he doesn't have a leg never came up.
In the beginning, opponents felt sorry for him. It wasn't too long before Robles started putting together moves and winning, and had to be taken seriously as a competitor.
Robles worked hard and benefited from good coaching and training partners, including Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix resident Henry Cejudo, when Robles was in high school.
He wrestled at 103 and 112 pounds in high school, the smallest weight classes. The scholarship offers weren't plentiful, as 125 is the lightest class at the NCAA level. But ASU came through with a partial scholarship after he won a senior national title, and Robles took the Devils' offer.
His story and success have led to moments in the spotlight. Robles, now 22, has been an ESPY Award finalist in the category of best male athlete with a disability. He's appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's late night talk show and the Montel Williams Show, sat ringside at a UFC event and been recognized at a Diamondbacks and Cardinals game and a WWE event.
"I didn't get into wrestling for the attention. I love the sport and I just wanted to be good at it," Robles said. "But I've been blessed and I'm very grateful for the experience that wrestling has brought me. It's been a fun ride, and it kind of sucks to see it end in another month, but I think I'm ready to walk away now."
Walk away? As in leave the sport? That's Robles' plan. He's also being fitted for a prosthetic leg and looks forward to getting off the crutches.
"Wrestling's been my life for nine years now," he said. "It's going to be kind of hard adjusting to just not having that around at all. But I'm satisfied with how my career turned out, win or lose at nationals. I can walk away just happy with the experience."
Happier with a title, of course.
"I just need to finish up the right way, and the right way is winning the national title," Robles said. "I'm confident I can take care of business."
[Update by Seth Pollack, 03/19/11 8:45 AM MST ]
Robles is currently competing in the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia. For the full story, visit the online home of the ASU Sun Devils.