Running from His Past, Carlin Isles Just Might Change the Sport of Rugby
In the frenzy that is the Summer Olympic Games, we are inundated with stories of excellence and inspiration – athletes who overcome tremendous odds to shine in their chosen sport on the world’s stage. The story of Carlin Isles is all that: a young man driven to excellence, overcoming a difficult childhood spent partially in the foster system, and later being adopted with his sister by his then-foster parents. What makes this story so different is that his focus hasn’t been singularly on one sport from early childhood as is true of so many Olympians. It’s not even that his journey has been such an epic story of “beating the odds” and overcoming a life that started with neglect and loss. What is spectacularly different about Carlin Isles is his level of internal motivation: using his singular focus to hone his spectacular running skills, translating those skills to several different sports, and still staying focused and driven to keep fighting, keep conquering, keep running.
He cut out and tacked to his wall newspaper stories about athletes who got in trouble. Those sad stories of wasted talent stoked in Isles a fear of failure that still chases and motivates him. He found wisdom in those clippings, and those stories told him what mistakes to avoid. He says he didn’t drink or smoke or even go to his prom. He regularly stayed up until the wee hours watching running videos and then got up early and raced the bus uphill on the way to school.
His path to the US Olympic Rugby team was very circuitous, starting with stardom in high school football and track and field. In fact, he qualified for the 2012 Olympic Track and Field trials. When he realized that his times for the the 2012 Olympic trials were not fast enough to make the team, he felt profound disappointment. While surfing the internet, he found clips of rugby and a plan formed in his mind. If he could run with the ball in football, he felt certain he could do the same for rugby.
He emailed officials at Team USA. They set him up with a club team in Aspen, Colorado. He packed everything he owned into his car and drove across the country, crying much of the way as he came to terms with what he felt was his last chance to make something of his athletic career.
“I knew that if this didn’t work out I was screwed. I put all my eggs in one basket,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was making the right decision. God was telling me the whole way, ‘Trust me, trust me, trust me.’ I didn’t know how it was going to happen, or how it was going to work out. I was just trusting the unseen.”
It’s taken some growth and learning, he’s been stretched as an athlete to adjust to the sport and learn. But he’s been dubbed “the fastest man in rugby” and he’s changing the face of the sport across the country. His relentless focus drives him. He is motivated by the doubters, by the fear of failure and by the obstacles that he has already faced and will continue to face as he continues to drive. “Whatever I’m trying to catch or whatever I’m trying to feel, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied,” he says. “I’ll still keep trying to prove something, fight for something.”
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