Anthony Robles is the poster child for what it means to break down barriers and have the courage to do so. Being born with only his left leg resulted in many difficulties for Robles, however with the endless support and nurturing of his mother, no obstacle could pin him down.
Robles shared his inspiring story Thursday as the first keynote speaker in this year’s HYPE Career Ready® program.
Wrestling with life
Starting before birth, Robles' life presented its challenges. Robles’ mother was young, just 16 years old when she found out she was pregnant. Nevertheless, when his biological father found out about the pregnancy he took off and was never in the picture. When Robles was born, neither his mother nor any doctor beforehand had suspected him of missing a leg; it was a shock to all. After running some tests the doctors told her that Robles was missing his right leg and as far as they knew he was going to be fine.
“Growing up, I knew I was different but my family never made it a big deal, missing a leg, never an issue,” he said. Never a big deal, but that only seemed to go as far as the walls of Robles’ home. “It wasn’t until I stepped outside of my house that it was a big deal to other people,” he said.
He found going out into public, even as simple as running to the store, drew a lot of attention and stares from both children and adults; school wasn’t any better. “Kids would be whispering as I walked down the hall and sometimes would laugh or make jokes. A lot of times I would go home crying.” His mother was there to uplift him.
“I asked my mom why, and she said two things: ‘Nothing’s wrong with you. You were born this way for a reason. You just have to wait to find out what that is. And never let your challenges be an excuse.’ With that mentality, I looked for ways to set the bar higher for myself.”
Thus, at the age of 14, a flame had been sparked inside of Robles and he decided to try out for the wrestling team without informing his mother. This became his passion and no matter what, he was going to pursue it.
The road of a champ
When he came home from his first practice, Robles was scratched, bruised and bleeding, yet it was the most alive he said he’d ever felt. He begged his mom to allow him to sign up for the team, and while it took much convincing she finally agreed.
“I felt like wrestling was my calling, wrestling was something that I was supposed to do,” he said.
While Robles had big plans and visions for a wall full of medals, trophies and ribbons, he had jumped the gun and forgotten about a couple of important steps to the process. The first was that he had in fact never wrestled before. The second was that his coach had never coached someone with only one leg. Thus, every move was new and had to be created from scratch. Over the course of the season, Robles worked hard but with very little success. His last match of the year made him question whether to continue wrestling because after the match when he shook the other coach’s hand, he could see and hear the pity in his voice. Robles then entertained the idea of quitting.
“At that point, I was ready to give up. I had worked hard but didn’t get the results I wanted. I could just quit. But there was a voice in my head that kept saying ‘You’re unstoppable.’”
He kept working hard and by the end of his high school career, Robles was a two-time high school state champ and a national high school champ. The next step was college.
Despite Robles’ ultimate success in high school, no colleges or coaches recruited him because of two factors: the lightest weight class in college wrestling is 125, which was 30 pounds more than what Robles weighed, and they didn’t believe he could cut it because of missing a leg. Robles ended up “swallowing his pride” and decided to walk on at Arizona State. He got a night job, went to classes, and wrestled.
Once that first collegiate season was finished Robles’ coaches called him into the office. They told him that based on his hard work and results, he needed to quit his night job and focus on school because they were giving him a full-ride scholarship.
But when there are ups, there are downs. In his second year, Robles got severely sick that put him out for over a month. If that wasn’t enough, Robles' stepdad had left his mom and young siblings. At that point, he wanted to give up. But his coaches didn’t give up on him even when he wanted to give up on himself.
But he pushed through to great success.
Fast forward to the nationals, going up against the former champ, Robles was scared but he pushed that aside, put his all into that match and came out a winner. In his final year, he went undefeated at 36-0, became a three-time PAC-10 champion and won that coveted national championship.
“I didn’t just wrestle on the mat, I wrestled through life. All of you can say that to some extent,” Robles told the ‘Berg students.
“When we’re wrestling through life, it’s very easy to lose sight of your goals and all we see are obstacles. But the question is, ‘How am I gonna react right now?’
“Each and every one of you has these challenges. I encourage you to stay focused on your goals and remind yourself, ‘I’m unstoppable.’”
— by Bailey Walter, ’23