2023-24 Nebraska Wrestling

Robb 'Full Steam Ahead' After Life-Threatening Infection | Husker Insider

Robb 'Full Steam Ahead' After Life-Threatening Infection | Husker Insider

Nebraska's Peyton Robb is back to being a title contender again after a rare skin infection threatened not only his wrestling career, but his life as well.

Nov 22, 2023 by Dylan Guenther
Robb 'Full Steam Ahead' After Life-Threatening Infection | Husker Insider

For Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, this year is all about gratitude and unfinished business as he returns to the mat for his final season after a horrifying health scare.

In one of the biggest stories from last season’s NCAA Championships, Robb had to medically forfeit out of the tournament after the consolation semis as he came down with a rare skin infection that threatened not only his wrestling career, but life and limb as well.

A four-time NCAA qualifier and two-time All-American, Robb was putting together a stellar season when it was derailed late. He was undefeated up until a 3-1 loss to Levi Haines in sudden-victory in the Big Ten final. At NCAAs, he won his first three matches before a semifinal loss to Haines. 

On the second day of NCAAs is when Robb noticed some pain in his shin, but he wrestled through it, downing Daniel Cardenas 6-4 in the quarters before his 5-3 semifinal loss to Haines. He then wrestled in Saturday’s consolation semis against Jared Franek, then of North Dakota State, dropping the match 3-1 in sudden-victory while extremely compromised from the infection that had him weakened and unable to keep anything down.

After that match with Franek, Robb was quickly taken to the hospital. He was diagnosed with streptococcal cellulitis, a bacterial infection. After receiving antibiotics and fluids through an IV, he returned to stand on the medal stand for his sixth-place finish.

Robb then had to endure an excruciating bus ride home and was later rushed to the emergency room in Lincoln where they found his heart rate too high and his blood pressure too low. The infection in his leg had caused sepsis in his blood, resulting in blood clots forming in his lungs.

After the doctors were able to stabilize his vitals, Robb went through a number of surgeries where they removed dying tissue as he was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a very rare infection that kills one in five people who get it. The doctors were forced to keep his enormous incisions open as they had to go in multiple times to remove any more dead tissue.

“You saw all the emotions of difficult times — you saw the worry, you saw the grief, you saw the uncertainty, you saw at different stages slowly growing confidence that things are going to be fine,” said Husker athletic trainer Tyler Weeda, whom the Robb family stayed with while their son was in the hospital. “Throughout it all, he did a great job of trying to stay as positive and as composed mentally as he possibly could. When you have doctors coming in every couple hours giving you good news then giving you bad news, it’s hard to roll with those punches and stay on the roller coaster.”

Then came a move to a specialized burn unit for the skin grafts, the physical therapy and then rehab. Obviously, Robb’s wrestling career was in jeopardy, but as it turns out, the infection didn’t take too much muscle tissue and didn’t get to the bone. If it had, they could have been looking at amputation.

“I knew when we came out of the very first surgery and they didn’t have to amputate his leg that we were going to be alright,” Weeda said. “I knew that once we got him over the hump of just getting the skin healed up the rehab itself shouldn’t be too difficult.”

I was shocked to hear Weeda say that, and he even admitted it sounds crazy – he explained that the muscle that was removed wasn’t all that important on the mat. And as far as rehab, he only had to focus on getting the mobility back in the ankle and strengthening the leg up.

“The area that we lost muscle tissue wasn’t a major muscle that we were going to be using. It was mainly just getting the mobility back in the ankle and getting everything else woken back up and getting it firing again — making sure his leg can move efficiently,” Weeda said. “If we had, for instance, an MCL tear during the season, typically that kind of stuff is going to take six to eight weeks. So if I had to compare it to something, it would be like comparing it to a rehab of a minor ankle sprain is about the time frame that it took to get him back to where he is right now.”

According to Weeda, Robb has recovered fully and is 100 percent. If you’ve seen him wrestle this season, you’d probably agree with that assessment. He’s 7-0 with two pins and four tech falls. 

“He’s full steam ahead. His goal and my goal for him is to accomplish what we didn’t accomplish last year,” Weeda said. “He was undefeated up until the last match of the Big Ten tournament. Mad respect to the rest of his competition, but it’s two matches against one guy. Did this have an effect on Friday night (at NCAAs)? I don’t know, probably not, but his body obviously wasn’t 100 percent at that time.”

According to Nebraska coach Mark Manning and everyone else in the Husker program, he’s certainly 100 percent now. 

“I think he’s been an inspiration for our team. Basically the whole team went up and saw him in the hospital so they saw the rough shape that he was in,” Manning said. “Then, months later you see him basically better than ever. It’s really miraculous.”

Over the summer, Robb’s rehab went so well that his injured leg is now even stronger than the other one. 

“We do isokinetic testing over in our lab, so that will basically show the strength in all of his quadricep muscles and in his hamstring muscles. Again, the muscle tissue that we took out isn’t a prime mover — it’s really just responsible for bringing your toes back toward your knee,” Weeda said. “By the time we did the isokinetic testing in August, we had a plus-5 percent differential, so we were showing that his injured leg was 5-percent stronger than his good leg.”

The real hurdle was the one in the mind as Robb had to trust in his rehab process.

“I was just making sure to trust Weeda and trust his process that he was putting me through,” Robb said. “I was just anxious to see what it would feel like to get back on the mat because you don’t know how you’re going to feel.”

The biggest takeaway for Robb after all of this is that he is especially grateful for the opportunity he has in front of him. After all, he knows as well as anybody that it can be taken from you in an instant. And had it not been for the free-eligibility COVID year of 2021, this ordeal would have been how Robb’s career ended.

“I am more grateful to be able to compete this last year. Without that (extra year), last year would have been my last year and wouldn’t have been how I wanted to go out,” Robb said. “I’m grateful to have that extra year and also grateful that I was able to work through everything and get to a point where I’m okay to wrestle. I try to remind myself of that when I do go out and wrestle.”

As the only senior on the team, Robb has his teammates’ full attention when he speaks up, according to Weeda.

“He definitely commands a sense of respect from everybody that has been completely earned. I think it was there last year too, but now it’s even more meaningful and when we talk about gratitude, he’s the epitome of that now,” Weeda said. “When we speak about that and making sure that you’re preparing for every single match in the same exact way and you’re grateful for each and every opportunity — that message now speaks loud and clear to everybody because they’ve seen that it can change on you.”

A senior now, Robb currently has an 84-27 career record. With a strong finish to the year, he could eclipse 100 wins and become Nebraska’s 31st member of the 100-win club. He also aspires to add his name to the list of national champs from Nebraska.

“I feel good, 100 percent again,” Robb said. “It feels like I’m in the right space to make a run.”

Currently ranked #3 at 157 pounds, Robb loves that he’s the bookend of Nebraska’s “Murderer’s Row” along with #4 Brock Hardy at 141 and #1 Ridge Lovett at 149. After redshirting last year as a junior, Lovett has returned to the fold in front of Robb.

“That was one thing that was a little bit tougher last year in duals going out after Ridge compared to going out after a guy that’s not Ridge — it’s a huge difference,” Robb said. “It’s great for momentum with Brock then Ridge then me. It really helps when the energy level is positive going into your match.”

Iron Sharpens Iron

Throughout his career, Robb has wrestled some of the best wrestlers in the country and the world in the practice room. Whether it was Jordan Burroughs, James Green, Tyler Berger, Kendric Maple or associate head coach Bryan Snyder, Robb has learned so much from those guys. Especially now that two-time World medalist Green is now on staff as an assistant.

“Not only their athleticism, but their mindset in matches and their wisdom and just wrestling knowledge overall always amazes me. I wrestled with James a lot early on in college and now that he’s back. He still teaches me something every single day,” Robb said. “It might not have been fun when I was a freshman getting the crap kicked out of me at practice by those three (Burroughs, Green and Berger, and) then Snyder and Maple. I got worked pretty often, but I think it paid off in the long run and I learned so much that now I can compete with some of those guys.”

Robb’s Post-College Plans

For Robb, it’s not about whether he plans to compete on the senior level, it all comes down to which style and which weight. He loves Greco-Roman but hasn’t wrestled it in years. A 2022 U23 World Team member, Robb is also credentialed in freestyle.

The other sticking point for Robb is at what weight he’d likely go at. He might be too big for 70 kg but also not quite a full 74 kg guy for freestyle. With that 72 kg weight class in Greco, that could be his ideal weight, he said.

“I want to compete after this year – it kind of depends on some personal stuff whether it will be freestyle or Greco,” Robb said. “I really like Greco, but the thing is it’s not as big, so it’s tough to take that route. That’s going to be the tough part. 70 kg is probably good but also it’s not an Olympic weight and it’s even lower than my competing weight in college. 74 is stacked up with so many good competitors. I think it’s more of a waiting game with that.”

According to Robb, wherever he chooses to compete after college, he feels he’s prepared for it.

“I’ve always trained with the best guys around those weight classes, so I feel comfortable that I can compete,” Robb said. “I don’t think I’d be an easy match for anybody.”

Then after a hopefully successful Senior-level career, Robb wants to eventually transition into college coaching.

“I plan on trying to coach college wrestling after this is done, so hopefully I can establish myself on that Senior circuit then take that into a coaching role. I have spent my whole life in the sport, and it’s the thing I know the most about. It’s something I love to be around, so hopefully I can continue to be around it as a coach after I’m done competing.”

A leading contender for Comeback Wrestler of the Year, Robb has his eyes set on more hardware and a long life in the wrestling world.