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While Arizona goes phobic over Latino immigration, a one-legged 125-pound Latino wrestler brings glory to the state with a NCAA Division 1 championship

Op Ed by Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

There are at least two major ironies in the success story of Anthony Robles.

At a time when Arizona is responsible for some of the most draconian anti-immigrant legislation enacted in our country in modern times, thus earning it the nickname of “The Hate State,” this 23-year-old Latino has brought glory to one of his state’s leading universities—Arizona State University—through his athletic prowess and most importantly, his courage.

On March 19, 2011, in Philadelphia, a crowd of 18,000 spectators at the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championship finals bore witness to an incredible event – one of those all-too-rare moments when human drama transcends sports.

The 125-pound, 5’8” Robles overpowered defending NCAA champion Matt McDonough by a score of

7-1 and won the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championship, thus topping off a senior wrestling section of perfection – a 36-0 record at Arizona State.

This was one of those sports epiphanies that will assume legendary proportions over decades to come as at least one million people will claim they were present in Philadelphia that night to see history made.

There is a proverb commonly used in Argentina that says “One that is strong” is “mighty as an oak tree,” and that day Robles proved the validity of the phrase. It is well worth noting that the surname of Robles translates into English as “oak trees.”

Oh yes, we didn’t mention that other irony—Anthony Robles was born with only one leg.

The story of how Robles has overcome incredible adversity to defy the odds for success as a wrestler is so inspirational to young people that it is no surprise that he is now considering launching a career as a motivational speaker.  And according to his page on Facebook, there is even talk of a Disney movie on his life.

Robles, who graduated from Arizona State in May with a degree in business communication, has decided to end his wrestling career and has said he will not try out for the US Olympics free-style team no matter how greatly he is tempted.

La Prensa approached Robles via his Facebook page to request a personal interview, but he did not respond.

However, we did locate several media interviews with Robles including one in which he told an interviewer that he can’t remember even once feeling sorry for himself.  He shares a lot of the credit for his positive attitude with his mother, who was only 16 when she gave birth in La Mirada, California on July 20, 1988 to a child born without a right leg.

Moving to Mesa, his mother Judy and ultimately his stepfather Ron raised Robles to believe that there was nothing he could not accomplish. In fact, as Robles recalled to an Associated Press reporter, “My parents raised me to believe I could do whatever I set my mind to.  I grew up thinking that way.  I didn’t think of my condition as something that could hold me back.  I just thought this is how God made me and I’m going to make the best of it.”

Fitted with a prosthetic leg, Robles tore it off at age three and refused to ever wear it again.

He is close to his parents and his four siblings, all of whom were in the audience the night of his big win.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said of the excitement that followed his spectacular victory, adding “but I’m just enjoying the ride. I feel like the hardest part is over…I achieved what I wanted to. I won my national title. I want to walk out on top. I’m satisfied with how everything went.”

Asked about the challenge he faced as a wrestler, Robles replied, “It doesn’t have to be a missing leg, you could have any obstacle in your life. Whatever that is, you don’t have to let that prevent you from doing things.  You don’t have to let the negativity of people or the doubters stop you from going after your dreams.”

Robles began wrestling as a 90-pound freshman at Mesa High School where his older cousin, a wrestler, volunteered him to serve as the practice dummy Bottom of Formfor one of his teammates. Robles liked the experience, despite getting beat up, and decided he would pursue the sport.  And by the time his junior season rolled around, he was already a state high school champion.

 He had set his sights on Arizona State, but first he had to overcome another adversity. Like so many other wrestling programs across the country, Arizona State’s was locked in a struggle to survive. During Robles’ freshman year in 2008, the wrestling program was eliminated. However thanks to a private donor who stepped forward, it was back to the mats ten days later. The future of the program is still dependent upon private fundraising.

However it was soon clear to his coaches that Robles’ positive attitude had allowed him to transform his physical disadvantage to a competitive advantage.

“Don’t stay concerned with the negatives — what can hold me back, what my disadvantages are,” Robles told AP. “I stay focused on the positive things — what I have, what I can do. That was the whole thing with my coaches. Starting in high school and all the way through Arizona State, we focused on the things that I COULD do.”

And that’s where Robles’ disability became his obvious advantage. His “Incredible Hulk” upper body was bigger than his opponents because his weight does not include that of a second leg.

Robles refused any special treatment from his coaches. Just like his teammates, he lifted weights and also “ran” for miles on the track on his crutches and climbed the stadium steps.

Robles was dominant the entire season, calmly dispatching one opponent after another in the 125-pound weight class. Then came the NCAA championships in Philadelphia, and the nerves began to mount.

“It was getting worse and worse. Each match, the closer I got to that national title the pressure seemed to be building on me,” Robles recalled to AP. “Leading up to that final match, right before I was about to run out there, I was terrified. I almost threw up. I was literally in tears. I had tears coming down my face. ... I felt like I was a little kid, and that I needed to go find a hole to hide in.”

But when he won, Robles was overcome with a whole new set of emotions. “I just remember putting my head down on the mat and it was just like a weight had been lifted off,” he said. “I was so relieved. I couldn’t help but smile. All the work I’d done this whole season, everything I had given up. Wrestling’s been my life for nine years. At that moment, it was all worth it.”

In his excitement, Robles forgot to leave his shoe on the mat, the traditional symbol of an end to a wrestler’s career.  Looking back, Robles credits wrestling with helping him mature. “I got so much self-confidence from the sport,” he said.

In another interview, Robles told a reporter that he did not go into wrestling for the attention. “I wrestle because I love wrestling, but it inspires me when I get kids, even adults, who write me on Facebook or send me letters in the mail saying I’ve inspired them and they look up to me and they’re motivated to do things that other people wouldn’t have thought possible. For me, that’s been a real blessing in my life. It encouraged me to keep going, to keep fighting hard.”

Robles said he hopes he can help kids or adults in the same way, “just to inspire them to achieve things…if I can help change somebody’s life for the better, then…I consider that a real honor and a privilege. Hopefully these people can take something away from me, they can believe in their dreams that anything’s possible.”

Now that Robles has accomplished his goal, has he ever looked back at what was the turning point in his life that got him jump started to where he is today?

“I think it was in my sophomore year,” replied Robles. “I took sixth in the state high school state competition. A good friend of mine was the state champion that year and I wanted to be a state champion just like him. A lot of people weren’t giving me credit for that. They didn’t think I had a shot at it. But I think that was really the turning point. It was like I want to be that guy. I want to be the best in the state.

“And once I won that, it was like I want to be the best in the nation. It went on from there,” said Robles.

“Wrestling has been a huge thing in my life. Wrestling has been my life for nine years now.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without competition now.  But it’s been a blessing in my life. It’s taught me so much.

“It’s really helped me to become a man. And I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

On the Internet: http://nomanches1.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/anthony-robles-nacio-con-una-sola-pierna-y-gana-titulo-de-lucha-de-la-ncaa/


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Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/12/11 20:37:24 -0700.





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