The Arizona Republic, Michael Schennum, Associated Press
PHOENIX — Anthony Robles had to think about the question for a couple of seconds. What does he see himself doing 10 years from now?
"I don't know," he said with a chuckle. "I had no idea 10 years ago I would be doing public speaking. I was actually shy. I didn't like speaking in front of crowds. It's crazy how life goes."
Isn't it? Imagine a young boy born without a right leg and raised by a single mom who gave birth when she was 16 years old. The boy ditches his prosthetic at age 7 because he's tired of constantly putting it on and taking it off.
He takes up wrestling at the age of 14 but is hardly an overnight sensation. His first year competing, he finishes last in the Mesa City wrestling tournament.
Nothing deters him. He gets bigger and stronger and becomes a two-time Arizona state high-school champion and an NCAA champion. He retires from wrestling after the championship match and begins his post-athletic career. He travels the country as a motivational speaker, as confident in front of crowds as he was opponents, his message coming straight from his life.
"The title of the speech is 'Be Unstoppable,' Robles said. "The general idea is we all wrestle to some extent. I had to wrestle on and off the mat. We all have challenges. It's up to you whether you'll overcome it or use it as an excuse."
Robles never let the loss of a limb become his crutch. He will admit to moments of frustration, particularly as a child. There were taunts and bullies and hard times. But there also was love and support on the other side of his front door.
"I would get down, but my family was always there to pick me back up, to encourage me and push me along," Robles said. "It really didn't matter what happened when I left the house because I always came home and got that positive reinforcement. That's what got me through everything. They had my back when no one else did."
It's not an exaggeration to say Robles' wrestling career was the stuff of legend. He went 96-0 his final two years at Mesa High School. He was a three-time All-American at Arizona State University and, last March, at the age of 22, became the NCAA wrestling champion at 125 pounds.
His story — and his success — made him the 2011 recipient of the International Olympic Committee's Disabled Athlete Award and the 2011 winner of the "Jimmy V" award for perseverance at the ESPYS, ESPN's yearly awards show. The award is named in honor of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.
By then, Robles already knew he wanted to be a motivational speaker, because he recognized his own story could be an inspiration for others.
"I didn't expect any of this," he said. "I was just trying to accomplish my own goal of being the best wrestler I could. In the process, all these other doors opened up.
"I got a shot to go after my dream. I know there are a lot of individuals who may not get that chance. They may not have the support system I had. Maybe I can help them with their circumstances."
He already has. Recently, he did an interview with a sports-talk radio station in Kansas. About a week later, he received an e-mail from the host, who said Robles would want to hear about a high-school senior who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. The talk-show host said that, when the senior named Jason awoke in the hospital, he said, "I'm going to be all right because I'm going to be like Anthony Robles."
"That really touched me," said Robles, who has since talked and texted with Jason.
Robles does have a 10-year plan, by the way. He wants to start up a foundation whose mission would be to help underprivileged families, particularly those with single parents. He'd also like to run a boot camp for athletes and other individuals who have their own inspiring stories to tell.
Until then, he'll continue to tell his story, one that's epitomized by a quote on his website, anthonyrobles.com:
"Every soul who comes to Earth with a leg or two at birth must wrestle his opponents knowing it's not what is, but what can be that measures worth. Make it hard, just make it possible and through pain, I won't complain. My spirit is unconquerable. Fearless I will face each foe for I know I am capable. I don't care what's probable, through blood, sweat and tears I am unstoppable."
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com
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