By Dan Walk
Anthony Robles was born with just one leg, but he never saw it as a disadvantage. Instead, he was focused on working hard in order to reach his goals.
His No. 1 goal? To become unstoppable.
Robles visited Edinboro University as part of a six-week book tour to promote “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became A Champion,” which was released on Sept. 27. Due to having just one leg, he was hardly recruited by colleges, even after winning two high school state titles.
Yet, he persevered, made the wrestling team at Arizona State University, and later became a champion, winning a125-pound Division I wrestling national championship to cap a 36-0 senior season.
During yesterday’s talks, the 24-year-old’s message was all about looking past obstacles and focusing on the objective.
“It’s not about looking at the challenge, it’s about looking at the goal and looking at what your dreams are and what you want to achieve,” Robles said at the university’s Cole Auditorium on Tuesday. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself. ... This is what I have, I’m just going to go for it and make the best of my opportunities.”
Robles started his wrestling career at age 14 and was very blunt about how successful he was during his freshman season, which ended with a 5-8 record. He finished last in the 103-pound weight class in his Arizona city.
“I sucked,” Robles said. “It was discouraging. From the very beginning, I just loved my sport and knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But then again, the things that are worth chasing in life, they’re not easy to get.”
Yet, he stayed optimistic. He wasn’t about to give up on the sport with which he fell in love from the moment his cousin introduced it.
He continued to train every day, sometimes twice a day, to reach his goal at the time, which was a state championship. He and his coaches also had to formulate a unique wrestling style to work around the lack of his right leg. He focused on chain wrestling, which included continuous tilts.
“I couldn’t really do the same moves that everybody else could do,” Robles said. “It took a while, but in the end it came together. It was all about just finding out my strengths and camouflaging my weaknesses.”
Robles tallied a 96-0 record during his junior and senior years of high school to become a two-time state champion. Upon graduating high school, he shifted his attention to a collegiate national title, which he achieved during his senior season by beating Iowa’s Matt McDonough, the reigning champion at 125.
“I think he focused on what he did well,” Edinboro wrestling coach Tim Flynn said at the second of Robles’ three sessions on Tuesday. “Just like any other athlete, he wasn’t worried about what he didn’t have. He focused on what he had. He made it work.”
Bruce Baumgartner, Edinboro University’s director of athletics, knows how much dedication and hard work go into winning a championship as a wrestler. He’s earned four Olympic medals, nine World Championships and an NCAA title. Baumgartner said that Robles didn’t let a negative in his life affect the positive things that he looked to accomplish.
“Obviously to win a national championship with two legs is an unbelievably difficult feat,” Baumgartner said. “To do it with one leg, born with one leg and overcoming the obstacles and so forth, it’s a great accomplishment. When you hear his story and see him interact the way he did with our students today, it’s a phenomenal accomplishment with an absolutely great person.”
Once he won the national title, which Robles said was “easily the happiest moment of my life,” he focused on motivational speaking under his company Anthony Robles Enterprises.
Robles continues to use crutches to walk and stand. He has recently tried to use a prosthetic leg, but he said he still isn’t comfortable enough to walk around on it. Robles’ next goal athletically is to get acquainted with the prosthetic leg and run a marathon.
Robles is undecided on whether he will train for the 2016 Olympics and is instead enjoying what has been a whirlwind year since winning the national title in March 2011.