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INTRODUCTION Mother Knows Best

THERE is nothing wrong with you. That was the message I got throughout my childhood from my mom, Judy Robles, who bore me at the age of sixteen, and who told me over and over, no matter what I’d heard in school that day, that I was complete, that I was perfect. Because I was young and trusting, I believed her. And so, in perfect seriousness, at the age of seven, I set a goal for myself to someday play for the Oakland Raiders. By the time I was fourteen, hopping around as a ninety-pound defensive tackle on the freshman team, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. You’ve probably heard the saying about how when the Lord closes a

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door, somewhere He opens a window. The year I quit football was the year I took up wrestling. That trade has worked out okay for me. While I never did play a down for the Raiders, I was invited to deliver a speech to the team on the eve of a game in November 2011. I’m a guy with a Raiders shield tattooed on my left deltoid. So, yes, it was a kick, sharing my message with the players and coaches, visiting the Black Hole for the first time in my life, then getting a standing ovation when I was recognized at midfield during the game. Making the experience even sweeter was that, after learning my entire family is nuts for the Silver and Black (my mom also sports a Raiders tat), the team flew her and my four siblings to Oakland for that game. We were greeted at the airport, then driven to Raiders headquarters, where we met the players and coaches, then had dinner with the team. I gave a motivational talk to the team; it went really well. While I was on the sideline for the next day’s game, my mom was up in one of the suites, chatting up Silver and Black Hall of Famers Willie Brown and Fred Biletnikoff. It was a dream come true for all of us. It made me truly happy to be able to share these experiences with my family and give back to them for their unconditional love. You see, even though I was born with one leg, my mom never allowed me to use that as an excuse to hold back, to sit on the sidelines, to miss out on life. I grew

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up doing all of the same things that other kids did. I rode a bike, took jiujitsu lessons, and raked leaves with my brother for money. I played baseball, basketball, and football (safety in seventh and eighth grade; defensive tackle in ninth). And on the night my friends and I made some dry-ice bombs that happened to go off in the park just as a squad car was rolling by, I ran from the cops, right alongside my two-legged buddies. When I say that I “ran,” I mean I crutched as fast as I could. Which, if I do say so myself, can be pretty fast. The first time my wrestling coach at Arizona State timed us in the mile, I finished in ten minutes. I eventually got that down to eight. The first time he sent the team out on one of our preseason 6 a.m. six-milers, head coach Shawn Charles gave me an out: “Anthony, you don’t have to do this.” But I explained to him that I do everything everyone else on the team does. That explains my conflicted reaction to being nominated for the Best Male Athlete with a Disability ESPY Award after winning the national championship in my weight class in high school: I was flattered by the nomination but angered by the name of the category. I don’t see myself as disabled. What am I unable to do? (You know, other than dance. And maybe play kickball at an elite level.) When you lose a wrestling match—and I lost a lot, early on—you have no one but yourself to blame. That

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sense of self-reliance and accountability are what initially attracted me to the sport in junior high. My cousin Jesse, who’s now a police officer in San Diego, wrestled at Salpointe High in Tucson. He’s the one who first talked me into pulling on the headgear and venturing out onto the mat. When he was first selling me on it, he made this point: “The football players are the big guys at high school, but we’re the tough guys,” he said. “They don’t like to take us on because they know we can take them down.” I liked that part of it, too.

AT a time when my own house didn’t feel like home, when the situation with my stepdad was at its most tense—when he paced around in a cold fury or engaged in shouting matches (and worse) with my mom—wrestling became my refuge. It opened many doors for me—to Arizona State University, to national championships, and to that night in July 2011 at the Nokia Theatre, where I was approached by a woman who identified herself as a personal assistant of Serena Williams. “Serena wondered if you had time to meet with her,” she said. I would’ve leapt at that opportunity to meet Serena even if she hadn’t been rocking a low-cut, pink minidress that made a wrestling singlet look baggy by comparison. “Why, yes,” I replied. “I’d like that very much.” I xiv

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Unstoppable, Anthony Robles