Source: Gary Mihoces, USA Today
PHILADELPHIA — Arizona State senior Anthony Robles is seeded No. 1 in the 125-pound class at the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament. He aims to finish No. 1. He's never been daunted by the fact he was born with one leg.
"I plan on going all out. I'm going to be throwing the kitchen sink and everything else out there with it," Robles said Wednesday.
Robles, 22, who started wrestling as a high school freshman in Mesa, Ariz., and won two state titles, is well known to NCAA tournament fans. They gave him standing ovations after performances that earned him All-America status the past two seasons.
He will take a 31-0 record into the tournament Thursday through Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
"You never hear him complain," said Arizona State coach Shawn Charles. "He doesn't see himself having a weakness. He just sees himself having to work his butt off to get what he wants."
Oklahoma State coach John Smith also saluted Robles.
"I think what's amazing is his attitude," said Smith. "I've briefly talked to him several times. … You can figure it out real quickly. He's got a fantastic outlook on things that makes him really special."
The top eight at the NCAAs become All-Americans. Robles was fourth at 125 in his 29-8 sophomore season. He was seventh last year as a junior (25-11).
Coming off his third Pac-10 title, his first match Thursday will be against unseeded Matthew Snyder (23-9) of Virginia. Robles beat Snyder 16-1 in January.
"Honestly, the seeding doesn't really matter to me," said Robles. "I came into this season believing I wanted to be national champion. … I took every match like it was the national finals. … There are a lot of dream crushers out there. I'm hoping none of them are going to be crushing my dreams this weekend."
Born without a right leg, Robles uses crutches off the mat. At the start of a match, he hops to the center of the mat. He opens in the stand-up position. When the whistle blows he drops to his knee and supports himself with his arms. He is nimble at moving around and keeping his shoulders square to circling foes.
When he locks up with an opponent, he has exceptional upper body strength for the 125 class.
"He's developed his style, and it's allowed him to be the best in the country with one leg," said Smith. "You hear a lot of things, that his upper body's big and he's strong and this is the reason he's winning. No, he's winning because of his attitude. He doesn't look at himself by any means as somebody that has a disadvantage."
Said Charles: "He's open-minded to work on weaknesses and make strengths. … He's a hard worker, a very motivated person and that's why he's in this position right now."
This season, Robles has not faced the two wrestlers seeded just below him: No. 2 Matt McDonough of Iowa and No. 3 Brandon Precin of Northwestern. In the 2009 NCAAs, he beat Precin in the quarterfinals before losing to him in the third-place match.
Wrestling is a sport that prides itself on being open to athletes of all types:
• Dock Kelly, born without part of his right hand and his right leg, competed in the 1996 NCAA Division I championships for North Carolina-Greensboro.
• Nick Ackerman, who lost both legs below the knees as a child due to bacterial meningitis, was 174-pound champion at the 2001 Division III finals. He wrestled for Simpson (Iowa).
•Kyle Maynard, born without hands or feet, qualified for the Georgia high school championships in 2004.
"We give opportunities," said Smith. "Wrestling is a sport of opportunity for the little, for the big, for the average kid, for the kid that's got one leg, one arm. It's a sport of opportunity for a lot of people that can't do a lot of things or other sports."
Now, Robles has a shot at a Division I title. He is commanding attention, as he has throughout his career.
"I got into wrestling because I loved the sport. I didn't get into it for any attention or anything like that," he said Wednesday.
But it's there.
"It's a real honor. I've had kids come up to me and get autographs. … I just feel privileged to be in that position," said Robles, who plans to do motivational speaking after college. "Really, this is my last year of wrestling, and if there's one message I can get out to those younger kids it's just go after your dreams. Don't let anybody stop you."
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