I spent this last weekend photographing some of the best wrestlers in the country at the NCAA division one wrestling championships in Omaha, NE. My dad had been going to this tournament for ages and this was the first time things came together so that I could go.
Most of the wrestlers at this tournament have been living on mats for almost 20 years and their ears showed it. Anyone familiar with the sport of wrestling knows about cauliflower ear. It’s one thing that you don’t see too often on a person who hasn’t spent a good portion of their life on the mat. Cauliflower ear was everywhere here and so were great matches. From the quarterfinals on, you couldn’t turn your head without seeing a great match. And Iowa fans made their presence known. They could make a preliminary round victory by one of their wrestlers sound like they had just won a national title. If an Iowa wrestler lost in dramatic fashion or in the last second, almost every other fan there cheered. Iowa has been so dominant in this sport with 23 NCAA team titles since 1975 that they are a team that people love to hate.
One of the best stories of the tournament was Anthony Robles of Arizona State. Robles was an All-American last year and again this year. This isn’t what makes his story unique. The fact that he was born with only one leg is what makes his story special. There are so many things you can’t do with only one leg as a wrestler. Through the first two matches, Robles had outscored his opponents 31-0 and scored two quick tech fall victories using a variety of tilts to garner back points. With only one leg, Robles is much stronger in his upper body than his opponents and probably has the arms of a 157-pounder, which makes life for opponents pretty complicated. Being a former wrestler, it amazes me that he is able to compete at such a high level without one of his legs. He has been one of the most inspirational figures in the sport’s history and he will be looking to make it to the top of the podium next year in Philadelphia. To read more about Robles’ life story, check out this story here.
You’ll see some pictures of Robles below mixed in with other action from three days in Omaha.