PHOENIX – Fresh off a big win that crowned him one of the best wrestlers in the NCAA, Anthony Robles is still flying high.
Robles, who grew up in Mesa and started wrestling when he was a freshman in high school, stopped by 3TV to chat with Tara Hitchcock about his career and his newly won title.
When his cousin first introduced him to the sport of wrestling, Robles said he wasn’t a fan, at least not at first.
“One of the times I was watching, he kind of forced me into practice,” Robles, now 22, recalled. “He was like, ‘One of my guys needs a partner. Get in there!’
“I just fell in love with it and I’ve been doing it ever since – nine years now.”
Born with no right leg, Robles said when he first started wrestling, his opponents were afraid they would hurt him. While some people might have questioned his Robles decision to take on the sport, he said his family was a huge source of support and encouragement.
“They’re always right there behind me, and that’s really all that I needed,” he said. “They instilled in me from a young age that I could do whatever I set my mind to.
“They didn’t give me any special treatment. They raised me just like them.”
While the physical aspects of the sport might seem to be the most challenging part for many athletes, at one point in his college career Robles said he realized he needed to be mentally tougher. After finishing seventh at nationals his junior year, not nearly as well as he had hoped, he knew he had to do something.
“I took a break from wrestling for a little while,” he said. “I was burnt out. I let all the pressure get to me. I decided to walk away all summer. I didn’t wrestle. I didn’t step on a mat. I just lifted.
“That really just helped me to mentally get back to the sport – the sport that I love so much.”
Robles’ coach said he was “uncharacteristically jittery” before the last match.
“I was terrified,” Robles laughed. “It was my last college match. It was the national finals. I had never been in that atmosphere. … I was so scared I almost threw up. I was starting to cry. I didn’t know what to do.”
By the end of the match, when he had defeated defending national champion Matt McDonough 7-1, the emotions were much different, but no less intense. Robles had just won the 125-pound NCAA Division I Championship.
“I was just so excited, I couldn’t even really grasp what was going on,” he said. “It was just a great experience.” Saturday night’s championship match capped a stellar season for Robles. He finished with a perfect season -- 36 wins.
While some people have floated the idea of going to the Olympics, the Arizona State University senior said his wrestling career is over. He’s ready for the next chapter in his life.
“I’ve had a great run with wrestling. I love the sport, but I think it’s time to move on. I’ve done what I set out to do. I can go out on top.
“I really want to be able to turn around now and help other people achieve things in their lives that other might say is impossible.”
Robles plans to put his amazing attitude and infectious energy to use as a motivational speaker.