WIN’s Impact award winner Robles is still ‘Unstoppable’

Updated: May 9, 2023

Photo: Since winning an NCAA championship, with just one leg, for Arizona State in 2011, Anthony Robles travels around as a motivational speaker, while also returning to coach at his alma mater, Mesa High School. (Anthony Robles photo)

By Mike Finn

With the help of his mother, Judy, Anthony Robles remembers becoming “Unstoppable” soon after the Arizona native was born without his right leg on July 15, 1988.

“From day one in the hospital when I was born, doctors were telling her to have no expectations, basically they set the bar very low,” said Anthony. “But my mom refused to think that way and she refused to allow me to think that way. She raised me to believe I was the only one capable of defining what I was capable of and had to figure out a different way to do it.

“She did not allow me to think what I was missing, but rather seeing myself for my gifts and my strengths. Building on that, you never let a challenge become an excuse. Missing a leg was going to be a challenge for my entire life that I’d have to deal with and my mom’s like, ‘You know, you’re going to figure it out and it’s never going be an excuse for you what can or can’t do.’ ”

And with that attitude, Anthony was soon introduced to wrestling, where the young man found a way to not only compete against opponents with two legs, but even excel; going 129-15 as a high school wrestler at Mesa, where he won state championships as a junior and senior; to earning a scholarship at nearby Arizona State in Tempe, where he was a three-time All-American; ending his career with a national championship at 125 pounds and the NCAA’s Outstanding Wrestler award in 2011.

And Anthony was just beginning to make an impact … on and off the mat. 

For soon, he became a motivational speaker, which is when he started using the word, “Unstoppable,” which became the name of his charitable foundation. It will soon be the name of a movie about his life produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and where Jennifer Lopez is expected to star. 

But don’t think Anthony sees himself as some Hollywood star. He proved that a year ago when he became the head coach of his former high school in Mesa.

These are among the reasons that Robles was named the recipient of the 2023 Mike Chapman Impact Award, presented by WIN Magazine.

“Anthony has fashioned a stunning resume in all areas when it comes to wrestling and his impact since his mat career ended,” said Chapman, the well-known wrestling historian, who created WIN Magazine and the Dan Hodge Trophy.  “It would be hard to imagine anyone touching more lives in such a special way, as far as our sport is concerned. It is a real honor to add his name to the list of Impact winners that goes back nearly 30 years.”

“I’m just truly honored for this recognition,” said Anthony from his home in Chandler, Ariz., where he and his wife Laura are raising their three-month-old son, Abel. “Wrestling touched my life in so many ways, taught me so many lessons and  introduced me to so many amazing people. I’m just trying to be the best representative of the sport that I can, moving forward any opportunity that I get and any chance that I get to talk about wrestling, just to share how it’s impacted me in a positive way.”

Wrestling was not easy at first for Anthony, who finished last in the city tournament when he was a freshman.

“My coaches took the time to train with me in the offseason and they were already treating me like I was a state champ,” he recalled. “One of them took me under his wing and would drive me around during the summer to the toughest training center in the state. And that’s how I got better.

Anthony Robles won the NCAAs in Philadelphia in 2011 when the three-time All-American captured the 125-pound championship as a senior. (WIN file photo)

“I didn’t have money to go to tournaments, to camps and things like that or get private lessons. “It was just all the good nature of these people giving back to me. That’s why I wanted to go back to Mesa, because my roots are there and because of the people who stepped up for me there. It’s my way of saying thank you. If I can leave that program better than when I first stepped into it, then I’ve done my job.”

Wrestling fans have also gotten used to seeing and hearing Anthony as one of ESPN’s commentators every March, while countless others have heard his motivational speeches on how he became unstoppable.

“That theme came from my professional speaking coach at the time,” Anthony recalled. “He was just asking me, ‘Describe your workflow, trying to come up with a speaking game, like how do you approach your wrestling style? 

“I said that I feel like my opponent can’t stop me. He’s not quick enough. He’s not strong enough. They can’t prevent me from doing what I want. That’s my mentality going and no one can stop me. 

“ ‘So, you’re unstoppable,’ is what that coach said. “Now I talk about being unstoppable in life and wrestling through life’s challenges, whether they are physical, mental, wherever it is.”

Anthony uses that same attitude when he teaches life and wrestling at Mesa High School. Or with his wrestling club, Mat Monsters, that he just started or with the Robles Unstoppable Foundation.

“Mesa is kind of a lower demographic, where money’s tight, especially with a big family,” he said. “We wanted to make this as affordable as possible for kids who are in the area who might be interested in trying wrestling, and to check it out and hopefully they get the bug like I did to continue with the sport. 

“And luckily, I’m blessed with some great coaches in the area who share the same goals, you know, who have the same vision of what we’re trying to build with this club and that we’re trying to change lives.

“We want to give them that extra support, whether it’s through a scholarship, helping them pay for off-season camps or extra tutoring and help; things like that. 

“I know I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for key people in my life. I just want to be that individual who gives kids the opportunities to make something out of themselves.

“At the end of the day, you know, it’s all about just taking advantage of opportunities. That’s what I’m trying to get for these kids.”