PHS principal inspires a future Rio Olympian to follow his dream

On August 4, PHS Principal Gary Snyder was heading to the gym in the evening when he received a call from Olympian wrestler, Robby Smith. Smith thanked Snyder for wrestling with him on the green and gold mats of San Ramon High School when he was four years old, sparking his passion for the sport.

photo by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Amy/" title="View all of this person's work">"Amy</a></span>

photo by Amy Wang
Snyder coached San Ramon Valley High School wrestling during the 1993–94 season with Smith’s father.

After wrestling in elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college at the University of Pittsburgh, Snyder became the head coach of the wrestling team at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, California from 1993–1994. It was then that he met Robert Smith, the assistant coach and Robby Smith’s father.

“We got to know each other. He was funny and charismatic … He liked sports. We liked coaching. We liked coaching together … [and] we had a fun season together,” Snyder said.

During the season, Snyder undertook the typical tasks of a head coach: planning and running practices, preparing and going to competitions, and coordinating members of the team. On some Saturdays, Robert Smith would bring his four-year-old son, Robby, to practice.

“Even then …. he [was] a big guy,” Snyder said. “He’d come to practice and … I would wrestle with him … he was small …  feisty … competitive; he had that drive in him. He wanted to wrestle; he wanted to be aggressive.”

After seeing Robby’s interest in wrestling and being with the team, Snyder talked to Robert, encouraging him to let Robby wrestle. When the season ended, Snyder transferred to Massachusetts for another teaching job, taking with him a green San Ramon blanket that the team gave him. Years later, he became the principal of PHS and lost contact with the Smiths for 25 years. During this time, Robby went from wrestling on the mats on the San Ramon gym floor to competing at Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. He won first place at the 130 kg Greco-Roman final qualifiers. Robby has also placed fourth in California’s 2005 State Championships while in high school, fifth at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships, and won bronze during the 2015 Pan American Games.

“When I was nine … it became a dream of mine to go to the Olympics, but it [couldn’t have] started without Snyder saying, ‘You should put your son into wrestling, I think he’d really enjoy it,’” Robby said. “If it wasn’t for that, I probably would have played baseball or football … and not had this amazing dream for wrestling to take me to 35 different countries … and make it to the Olympics.”

photo courtesy of Robby Smith srcset=

photo courtesy of Robby Smith
Smith defeated Argentine Luciano Del Rio en route to a bronze medal finish at the 2015 Pan American Championships in San Diego, California.

Surprised by a small action that later created an Olympic athlete, Snyder was reminded of how any interaction with youth can influence them in unimaginable ways.

“Any day, any moment, you are making an impact on somebody, “ Snyder said. “And they might not know it’s important at the time, but maybe later on they realize how important that was.”

The interaction also had a profound impact on Robby, changing the way he viewed his interactions with others. In fact, Robby has coached younger wrestlers several times at California’s Community Youth Center in Concord, hoping to impact his students similarly to how Snyder impacted him.

“[Gary] might not have been an Olympian or a World Champion … but he was a wrestler… ” said Robby Smith. “So the next time I see a little kid, I’ll say, ‘You change your dream, because if you want to become an Olympian, it can work, because one day a man told me the same thing.’”

photo courtesy of <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Robby/" title="View all of this person's work">"Robby</a></span>

photo courtesy of Robby Smith
Smith earned fifth place at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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