Robinson gains perspective after serious illness

Wrestling: Robinson almost loses leg, but has returned to team

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DES MOINES - It was painful to watch J Robinson get around Wells Fargo Arena.

Robinson hobbled about on crutches with an immobilizer wrapped about the knee of his left leg during the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.

The 66-year-old University of Minnesota head wrestling coach is recovering from a serious bout with a strep infection that nearly cost him his leg, and even his life, in January. Considering the alternative, his current situation isn't terrible.

“The thing you find out is it is very easy to feel sorry for yourself, but the thing you gain is a perspective that as bad as it was there are people who have it worse than me,” Robinson said. “If all I have to do is walk around on crutches for 13 weeks, that ain’t a bad deal.”

Robinson, in his 27th year as Gophers head coach, suffered an abscess tooth during last year. He put off having it treated and the infection spread, settling in his left knee. He dismissed the pain, because he had experienced it before with the artificial joints.

Things became unbearable when Minnesota competed at the Southern Scuffle tournament in January.

“I couldn’t walk the second day of the tournament,” Robinson said. “I went back home and our team doctor drained it and sent me to the Mayo (Clinic).”

He underwent surgery to have his artificial knee removed and remained in the hospital for 12 days. Robinson had to rely on the nurses to help him move around and was restricted mainly to his bed. He received antibiotics treatment through a Picc IV line for six weeks after he was released.

“They said if I would have waited a day I would have either lost my leg or would have died,” Robinson said. “It was pretty serious. We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

Robinson owns a 405-131-4 career dual mark, including a 154-60-3 record in the Big Ten. He has led the Gophers to three NCAA titles and a national runner-up finish last year. He was an assistant coach at the University of Iowa from 1976-84, serving as interim head coach for Dan Gable in 1983-84 season and guiding the Hawkeyes to Big Ten and NCAA titles.

Minnesota, two-time defending National Wrestling Coaches Association/Cliff Keen National Duals champion, didn't lose ground while Robinson was out. He was somewhat proud of the fact assistant coaches Brandon Eggum, Luke Becker and Jayson Ness kept the team headed in the right direction, during his ordeal.

“They carried on great," Robinson said. "They just picked up the reins. What you want to do as a leader is develop a staff that when you’re gone it’s not noticeable. Everyone brings something. They did a great job.”

Minnesota went 8-2 in the opening session Thursday and was among the leaders in the team standings.

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