GCU Campers Hear Star Wrestler’s Words of Wisdom
Story by Doug Carroll / Photos by Jennifer Willis
With a captive audience of young wrestlers spread out before him, NCAA champion Anthony Robles didn’t want to talk about his victories.
Instead, he focused on a 90-pound, 14-year-old boy who lost eight of 13 matches — most of them by pin — as a freshman at Mesa High School.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Robles admitted Tuesday morning at Coach R.C. LaHaye’s camp at GCU’s Student Recreation Center. “I was last in the city of Mesa. I was pretty bad.”
Robles kept showing up for work. Mentored by an upperclassman, Chris Freije, he stuck with it. And now the inspirational story of how the kid born with one leg won an NCAA title this year at 125 pounds for Arizona State University is known to the entire sports world and beyond.
In two weeks, he’ll be in Hollywood for the ESPY Awards, where he will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance on the night of July 13.
“He’s an ambassador for our sport,” said LaHaye, who has known Robles for years and managed to snag him to speak and instruct at this week’s camp.
Not surprisingly, that took some finessing. Robles said he has been in the state for only two days in the past month. Book, film and shoe deals and speaking engagements are swirling about him, although he mentioned none of the above to the campers.
“If you want to be a better wrestler, find that guy who’s a little better than you are,” he told the group in a soft-spoken but engaging talk. “Iron sharpens iron. You guys being here right now shows that you want to put in the extra effort.”
Robles recalled the quantum leap he made between his freshman and sophomore years in high school — the result of sweat and sheer determination. The boy with the 5-8 record improved to sixth in the state and then went unbeaten as a junior and senior, earning a scholarship to ASU and ultimately becoming a three-time All-American.
Freije, who is helping with the camp and now coaching at Mesa State College in Colorado, could see it coming.
“He just worked hard all the time,” he said of Robles. “He came every day and wrestled hard. Every day, he was wanting to be around it, wanting to get better.”
Freije counts Robles’ NCAA championship, which he witnessed in March in Philadelphia, as one of his favorite wrestling memories. Robles said that immediately after his victory over defending champion Matt McDonough of the University of Iowa, his iPhone blew up with 100 text messages. He still hasn’t had time to return almost 1,000 messages on Facebook, he said.
“I didn’t get into wrestling for the attention,” he said of the recent crush of media and public interest. “It’s been amazing, and I was overwhelmed for a while, but I have a nice circle of people helping me. Although it’s nothing I expected, it’s a great opportunity. God has blessed me with this.”
Robles advised the campers to focus on what they’re able to control.
“Maybe you’re from a family where your parents are divorced,” he said, recalling the time when his father left his mother to raise five children by herself. “Worry about the things you have power over.
“I want to get across that anything is possible. My mom always said to be like a horse with blinders on. We all deal with our own things, but they don’t need to hold you back.”
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