Judy Robles knew her son was different when he tore off his right leg and started to hop around the house on his left. Well, she had known he was different since birth, when he came into this world first with the head and shoulders, and one arm and then another arm, and one leg and then ... well, there wasn't another then. Anthony Robles came into the world with one leg.
|Wrestling against Arizona State's Robles proves to be a challenge. (ASU Media Relations)|
Anthony didn't want to walk. Not like that. Not if it meant going through all sorts of gyrations every morning to put the prosthetic on, and then repeating those gyrations in reverse to take it off at night. The heck with that. Anthony Robles was just 3 years old when he tore it off and contented himself with crutches, or with hopping on one leg.
He wouldn't take no for an answer, this kid. His father, Ron Robles, was into power-lifting and had a weight set in the garage, and Anthony wanted to lift weights, too. Ron said no, Anthony, you're too young. It wasn't the leg -- it was his age. So one day Ron Robles was resting between sets when he heard someone else breathing heavily. It was Anthony, on the floor, doing push-ups.
A few years later, Anthony broke his school's sixth-grade record for push-ups. Today, a wrestler at Arizona State and one of the highest-rated freshmen in the country, he can do pushups until he loses count. When you're born without a leg, you compensate with your arms, which become like legs. They become thicker, stronger, than a regular kid's arms.
But then, what's a "regular" kid anyway? Anthony was a regular kid. He played football with kids his age, and he tagged along with older kids. And so there was Anthony in the eighth grade, tagging along with an older cousin on the high school wrestling team, when he hopped onto the mat and started rolling with a team member.
And right then it became apparent that Anthony Robles wasn't regular at all. He was different: He was gifted, almost supernaturally so, at wrestling.
All those supposed weaknesses that come from missing a leg, well, those became strengths on the mat. His upper body was enormous for his size. So was his strength. And his grip? Like a hand from hell.
"That kid has a super grip," Judy Robles says. "He's always had that. Once he latches on, he's not letting you go."
All that was left for Anthony was to figure out an individual style that would work best. Conventional wrestling was of no use, because there's nothing conventional about a one-legged wrestler. His high school coach, Bobby Williams, studied Robles for days before coming up with the idea that this low-to-the-ground kid should get even lower.
Robles started wrestling from his left knee, with his foot behind him, poised to push off. Anthony Robles can't run a long way very quickly -- although he can crutch a mile in 10 minutes -- but in the short space of a wrestling mat, he has explosive quickness. He crouches low on his knee and pushes off with his foot like a sprinter coming out of a starting block, and then he's under you, pulling you down to his level. Wrestlers call the technique the "ball and chain." The opponent becomes the ball, and Robles reels him in.
Ball-and-chain is a fine name for it, but I've seen Robles wrestle and I'd suggest calling it "the Alligator." Look for yourself. He pulls his opponent down to the mat, below his foe's comfort zone, and starts grabbing and spinning and mauling. It's like watching an alligator roll with a piece of meat.
"It's hard for people because I am so low like that, and I take advantage of my upper-body strength," Robles says. "That's what I love about wrestling -- whatever your strengths are, you build your style around those. The best wrestler wins. Whoever works harder and wants it more is going to win. Everybody's going to lose once in a while, it's just going to happen, but this is a sport where anybody has a chance."
The first time Robles participated in organized wrestling was his freshman year of high school in Mesa, Ariz. He finished sixth in the city. As a sophomore he was sixth in the state. He won state titles as a junior and senior, going a combined 96-0, and capped his high school career with the 112-pound title at the 2006 High School Senior Nationals and a scholarship to Arizona State.
|Ask his Mom or opponents: Robles has a 'rare grip.'|
"I want to be a (collegiate) national champion first, but then I'd like to be on the Olympic team," Robles says. "Maybe try to go once or twice and win a gold medal."
Lucas, a fifth-year senior with 44 career victories, hadn't been pinned this year before Robles did it to him on Jan. 27. And it was no fluke. Robles led 8-0 before alligator-rolling Lucas into a bad spot and finishing him off.
"I knew what he was going to do, but I still couldn't figure out how to stop it," Lucas says. "Wrestling him is ... I don't know how to describe it. It's extremely different, and he's extremely talented. Almost everything conventional is out the window because you're put in positions you're not used to being in, and there are times you're going to reach for a leg and it's not there. You reach for it and you're reaching for air."
Anthony Robles is as unconventional as it gets. He bench-presses 300 pounds, enormous for someone who weighs 125. That would be like an NFL linebacker benching 600 pounds. Impossible. Robles can do 50 pull-ups on command, and he can flip upside down and walk on his hands back and forth across the wrestling mat.
And he can do greater things. Earlier this season a woman approached Robles as he was hanging out with his parents after a match. This woman, this stranger, was crying -- and because she knew ahead of time she would be crying, she had a hand-written note already prepared. Robles read the note and excused himself, going up into the crowd to speak for several minutes with a teenage boy. When he came back, he handed his parents the note.
"It said (the woman's) son had been fighting cancer and had to have his leg amputated," Judy Robles says. "Anthony had inspired him to wrestle."