NCAA wrestling champ Robles delivers powerful message

It seems no obstacle is too great for Anthony Robles to overcome. After all, the Arizona State Unive

It seems no obstacle is too great for Anthony Robles to overcome.

After all, the Arizona State University senior won the 125-pound weight class title two weekends ago at the NCAA Div­ision I Wrestling Championships, a feat more remarkable given that the 22-year-old was born without a right leg.

So when he had to change his travel plans from Arizona to the Capital Region after his Saturday flight on Southwest Airlines flight was cancelled , Robles took it as just another challenge to fulfill an oblig­ation to run practice sessions for the Journeymen Wrestling Club.

“I left at 11:30 [a.m.], and got in at 11:30 last night. It was a long day,” Robles said Monday between sessions at Niskayuna High School. “But I knew there were kids who were expecting me to be here.”

Journeymen Wrestling Club founder Frank Popolizio had booked Robles to run practices for his club Monday and today, and also set up some appearances at schools and businesses for the budding motivational speaker.

Robles spent Monday delivering his message, both on and off the wrestling mat.

“The main thing that I stress with them is they can be unstoppable in their lives,” said Robles. “They just have to have the right mindset, look beyond their obstacles. That’s the message I want to get across, not just from wrestling, but the things I’ve overcome in my life.

“It’s exciting to show them something they can use in a match, to know I’ve made an impact; in some way, I helped them get a little better.”

He had delivered a similar message for Columbia High School students earlier in the day at a school assembly.

“He’s very inspirational, not only just for what he’s done in the sport, but what he’s had to overcome in his life,” said Columbia 11th-grader Brendan Morgan, who was at both the assembly and the JWC practice.

“I had kids come up to me at school and say, ‘Anthony Robles is going to be speaking at school? That’s cool.’ I didn’t even think they knew who Anthony Robles was.”

Robles credits his mother, Judy, for his outlook.

“My mother had me when she was 16, and she never treated me any differently than my brothers or my sister,” said the native of Mesa, Ariz., the oldest of four children. “I grew up thinking I could do anything.”

That included playing football in junior high school as a defensive lineman, until a relative got him interested in wrestling.

Robles became a two-time high school champion and three-time NCAA All-American. His NCAA championship drew national attention, and the days following the tournament were filled with media interviews and appearances.

The interest in his story gave Robles a chance to share his exper­iences with new audiences, something that might become a career, and lead to a book or movie.

“I’ve been traveling around doing a lot of motivational speeches,” he said. “I’ve got 22 speaking engagements in April alone. It’s a little overwhelming. I just take it as it comes.”

Popolizio struck up a relationship with Robles at the 2008 NCAA championships in St. Louis.

“He was walking on the street outside the arena, and I had to meet him,” Popolizio said. “I had watched him wrestle, and was impressed. He found a way to get it done.”

Popolizio, who has had Robles work as a clinician at some of his offseason wrestling camps, is not surprised that Robles has taken to motivational speaking.

“To me, he’s a lot like Cael Sanderson. He’s had this ambassadorship for our sport thrust upon him, and he’s handled it very well,” said Popolizio, drawing a comparison to college wrestling’s only four-time unbeaten national champion. “He’s humble, he’s personable, he’s ins­pirational. He wants to give back to the sport.”

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