A courageous wrestler comes back to Philadelphia, this time for an award

In the beginning, he was the story because he was different.

Look at the kid with one leg trying to wrestle.

That was frustrating for Anthony Robles, the 90-pound freshman at Mesa High School in Arizona.

"I'm  terrible, and people are talking about it and saw me as a kid who was trying so hard and they wanted me to keep going," Robles said before accepting the Most Courageous Award on Monday night at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner in Cherry Hill. "They saw me as this kid who wouldn't amount to the other wrestlers. That was very frustrating."

With the proper prodding from his high school coach, Bobby Williams, and wrestling pal Chris Frejie, Robles became a champion. The one-legged wrestler went 96-0 his final two seasons in high school.

Now competitors said he had an unfair advantage. His upper body was stronger than those of most kids wrestling his weight. He had a lower center of gravity because he only had one leg. His opponents only had one leg to go after on takedowns.

That was frustrating, too.

"My coach told me he knew I was getting somewhere when the haters started bringing out stuff . . . and picking out things," said Robles, who was born without a right leg.

And still there were doubters. Lots of doubters.

Schools are supposed to line up with scholarship offers for high school wrestlers who win consecutive state championships. Robles got two phone calls - one from Drexel, the other from Arizona State - and zero scholarship offers.

He decided to stay home and attend Arizona State.

"The big thing was my leg," he said. "I was told it was because I was too big a risk to give money to. They felt they could get other wrestlers out there who were not as big a risk as me."

They were all wrong, of course. Robles proved that over and over again. He proved it by finishing fourth in the country as a sophomore and seventh as a junior. Both were incredible accomplishments for a one-legged wrestler.

But neither fulfilled his dream of a national championship. He had to wait for his trip to Philadelphia to achieve that goal. After climbing the Art Museum steps with his brother, Nicholas, for a victory dance with Rocky last March, he went out that night and completed a 41-0 season.

"It was a great feeling," Robles said. "I love Philadelphia, and I love coming back because of nationals back in March. The first thing we did was go by the arena and take pictures on my cellphone. That was the greatest moment of my life so far. It brought back great memories for my family. It's like another home for me."

Six months removed from also winning the Jimmy V. Award for courage at the ESPYs, Robles is now on a public speaking tour and working on a book and a possible movie. His wrestling career is on hold, although he has not ruled out trying for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team that will compete in Brazil.

Other honorees Monday include Flyers center Claude Giroux (pro athlete of the year); San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (Native Son award), Villanova track and cross-country all-American Sheila Reed (outstanding amateur athlete); Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence (Good Guy award); Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (accepting the Phillies' team of the year award); Philadelphia University basketball coach Herb Magee (Living Legend); Villanova football coach Andy Talley (Humanitarian); Phillies manager Charlie Manuel; WNBA coach of the year Cheryl Reeve; the Union's Sebastien Le Toux; college football coaching Hall of Famer Bill Manlove, and Villanova University women's basketball coaching legend Harry Perretta (all special- achievement honorees).

Also celebrated was the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's NBA-record 100-point game, the legendary careers of boxer Joe Frazier and Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and the Hollywood depiction of the Immaculata Mighty Macs women's basketball team.

 


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.