Long before Anthony Robles rose to national prominence by overcoming his limitation as a one-legged wrestler and winning a national title, he and new Lander wrestling coach R.C. LaHaye squared off where no one was watching in Arizona.
Robles and LaHaye attended high school in neighboring cities — Robles in Mesa, Arizona, and LaHaye in Payson, Arizona — and they used to train for tournaments together.
On Saturday, LaHaye and Robles were back in the same gym. Robles visited Greenwood to help instruct wrestlers from all over the Southeast at LaHaye’s first on-campus camp as the Bearcats’ coach.
“It’s kind of that first little bit of actual wrestling action that we’ve had,” LaHaye said. “I’ve been here a whole year and it’s really been just recruiting. To have some kids here, actually participating in the sport, it’s exciting.”
Robles, an Arizona State wrestler who won the 2010-11 NCAA wrestling title in the 125-pound weight class, is now a motivational speaker and television announcer for college wrestling events.
Robles demonstrated techniques to wrestlers at the camp. Since wrestling in college, he has embraced his platform to motivate others.
“It’s all about focusing on your strengths and building off that,” Robles said. “Having that positive mindset of you going out there and saying, ‘I’m unstoppable.’ It doesn’t matter the challenge. I don’t let my challenge become an excuse to say, ‘I can’t do it,’ or to quit. That’s what this sport has really taught me throughout my life.”
Born with only one leg, Robles refused to wear a prosthetic leg early in his life. He started wrestling in eighth grade. By the end of his senior year at Arizona State, Robles completed an undefeated season and claimed the 125-pound NCAA title by 7-1 decision against Iowa’s Matt McDonough in 2011.
Robles wrote an autobiography, “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion,” which was released in 2012. He set the world record for pull-ups during halftime of a New York Jets game in November 2018. Robles will be portrayed by Jason Mitchell in an upcoming biopic, titled “Unstoppable.” The movie reportedly started filming in early 2019.
LaHaye and Robles had a mutual friend in high school, and the three of them trained together each summer. Robles said “lions train with lions,” and LaHaye was one of the lions who pushed him to become one of Arizona’s best high school wrestlers.
“There’s nowhere to hide (in wrestling), so you really have to be confident in what you’re capable of,” Robles said. “Going into that wrestling room every summer with guys like R.C., they were beating on me. I was learning because not only were they pushing me hard, they were testing me on the inside. They were showing me what I was made of on the inside.”
LaHaye called Robles “inspiring,” and said he never let his limitations hold him back from excelling as a wrestler.
“You didn’t see everything, but you saw glimpses,” LaHaye said. “You saw a kid that had some limits and he didn’t let them slow him down. He was always in practice. He was never afraid to take on the bigger guys. You saw little glimpses that there could be something special there. Even though there were some limits, he didn’t let that affect him. That was something that I saw when he first started, when he was really young. And that’s kind of what has made him what he is now.”
LaHaye said he has already done most of the work to get Lander’s wrestling program up and running. Mats are ordered, matches are ready to be scheduled and the Bearcats’ roster is complete.
LaHaye joined Lander in July after a stint as Newberry’s wrestling coach. He started a Division II program at Grand Canyon University in 2007.
“I was fortunate,” LaHaye said. “I learned a lot of those lessons the first time, so I’m hoping that it’s going to pay off the second time.”