ANTHONY ROBLES IS CRUTCHING, and he is crutching fast.
It’s only 7:58 a.m. on this day in May, but Robles, the NCAA champion wrestler at Arizona State born with one leg, is practically skiing in the air, even though he’s carrying two backpacks around his wrists, and a box in his hands. He operates his crutches with just his armpits — they have gotten so strong and calloused in his 33 years on Earth that they can squeeze and push and pull just like hands. These days, he can crutch a mile in eight minutes.
Robles is making his way inside the headquarters of the Desert Financial Credit Union in Phoenix to attempt the hardest thing he has ever done in his remarkable life: break the Guinness World Record for pullups in 24 hours.
With 62 minutes to go before 1,440 consecutive minutes of absolute hell, Robles and his wife pause for a moment in the middle of the room to get a lay of the land. In the far corner, a five-person team of Guinness World Record representatives is prepping their setup of cameras and computers to be able to livestream the entire day.
There are two ways to set a Guinness record. One is to film and document everything yourself and submit it to Guinness for a lengthy evaluation period. It can take a year to hear back. The other is to pay to get the U.K.-based Guinness to come in person with cameras and judges, which includes the added bonus of being able to have the record confirmed on the spot. That’s what Robles’ camp chose, with a total cost of around $15,000, according to Robles’ manager. (The total cost of the event was $60,000).
Several credit union employees have set up food and drinks on a table for the production team, just on the other side of a roped-off viewing area with space for about 50 members of the general public. Robles crutches over to the middle of the room where his home pullup station is set up. He has a light green papasan chair a foot away from the bar, with a 2-inch-thick wooden plank to hop onto before he jumps up onto the bar.
He surveys everything once more before the 9 a.m. start time, then heads into the far right corner, to a curtained-off area for Robles, his wife, Laura, and mom, Judy. As unlikely as the story of a boy with one leg growing up to become the nation’s most dominant college wrestler might be, so too is the idea that the same kid could become the greatest pullup machine in history. This is his sixth attempt at various Guinness pullup records, and he currently holds the mark for the most pullups (23) in one minute with an 80-pound weight on his back. Today, he’s trying for his most unthinkable, potentially dangerous challenge: 7,716 pullups in 24 hours.
This will be it for him. He recently took over as head wrestling coach at his alma mater, Mesa High School, and Laura found out she’s pregnant. He’s 33 years old, and he says he’s ready to turn the page on his athletic career. For one last time, he wanted to try to live up to the title of his autobiography, “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion.” So he has trained for almost two years to go out with a bang.
“I’m excited about this next chapter of my life — I promised Laura that this would be it,” Robles says, nodding toward his wife, who smiles back. He lays his crutches down in the back and sits down for the last bit of rest before he begins his quest.
“It’s going to be the most grueling thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally,” he says. “But I’m pretty confident I am going to do it. And then I can walk away.”