CLEVELAND -- Carlin Isles did not want to be a statistic.
Growing up in less than ideal circumstances in Akron, Isles literally fought and ran his way to success. And that childhood desire to be better than the conditions surrounding Isles gave him the motivation to earn his spot on Team USA Rugby for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“It means everything,” Isles said. “I’ve been dreaming of this forever and sacrificed a lot to get here. It’s a special feeling, and it’s amazing to accomplish my dreams. We all need to focus on our dreams, but it’s not over yet, and I need to continue to work as hard as possible.
“It doesn't matter what I had to overcome because I accomplished my goals. I was wise enough to manage myself to take care of my blessings. I took the positives from all my experiences to make myself who I am. I learn from mistakes and make sure I don't set myself up for more struggles in the future.”
Isles and his twin sister were removed from their childhood home by police at a young age and had to go to extreme measures just to survive in the foster care system in Akron before they were adopted by a family in Massillon.
“We got taken from my mother, and that was hard,” Isles recalled. “I remember that day still. The police came and they took her away. They locked us up in the back of the police car, and I didn’t know what was going to happen after that.
“We ended up going to foster care, and the schooling was horrible. It was in Akron. I used to run away from home a lot. I didn’t celebrate no birthdays, Christmas. I had to eat dog food. I had to fight other kids to protect my sister and I. I prayed to God to get out of that situation, and I didn’t know too much about it, but I knew there was one.”
FINDING A HOME, SUCCESS
Although Isles went through challenges as a child, he has found a support system within his adopted family.
“My parents always believed in me and gave me confidence,” Isles said. “Sometimes, I felt alone with no support, but since I have a big family, I had to support and give confidence to my siblings.
“It means a lot to know they're proud. I love being a role model to a large family.”
Along with that support, there was a burning desire to succeed, which motivated Isles to push himself to overcome the fact that he could not read.
“I struggled with academics,” Isles said. “I didn’t want to be another dumb black kid who was just fast.
“I was scared because I wasn't reaching my full potential. I worked hard in school and in athletics to reach my goal. I never wanted to waste my talent. I never wanted to make any mistake and give my talents away. My determination got me here.”
A school record-holder in the long jump, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter events at Jackson High School, Isles continued his athletic and academic pursuits at Ashland University, where he attained All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference accolades on the football field and All-American status in track.
While at Ashland, Isles set school records for the most kickoff return yards in a game and the longest kickoff return for a touchdown.
Although he had the speed to compete in track at the Olympic level and was in line to make the team for the 2012 London Games, Isles chose a different path and combined his passions for track and football into rugby.
“People thought I was crazy because I worked so hard, but I knew I could do more,” Isles said. “I wanted to impress my friend who had believed in my vision. I found a new direction, and I knew I could go farther in rugby.
“I had seen guys doing incredible things, running fast, and I’m like, ‘Oh man, this could be made for me.’ Then, all these goals and dreams started popping in my mind. Watching rugby film, I realized I had the skill set for rugby. I had new goals for rugby and I was excited to achieve them. It doesn't matter where you come from, but you can do anything you put your mind to.”
BUILDING A NICHE
Although there were struggles along the path to the Olympics, Isles did things his way.
Rather than going the convention route and earning a spot on the track team, he found a new passion in rugby and started his career with the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club before earning a residency contract with the Men’s Eagles Sevens.
Following a successful run in the 2012-2013 IRB Sevens World Series, Isles played for the Glasgow Warriors of the Guinness Pro12 league before returning to the Olympic Training Center.
“I need to be strong minded and make my own story,” Isles said. “I knew I had to take a different path and the sky was the limit.”
UTILIZING HIS SPEED
Isles did not just make the U.S. Olympic team.
He built up an international reputation as a difference-maker because of his speed, which helped him become one of the leading try-scorers on the Eagles during the 2012-2013 IRB Sevens World Series competition. That success led to the nickname “the fastest man in rugby.”
“I wanted to be the Usain Bolt of rugby,” Isles said. “I wanted to be the fastest in rugby, and to have that title, I just can’t believe it. It’s special. I feel like I’m on a track and that’s when I feel truly alive. Indescribable. It’s both talent and hard work. I’ve worked so hard for so many years and always pushed myself to the best of my ability.
“Workouts are huge parts because I need to be strong and fast and workouts help me train those aspects.”
HOPE FOR MEDAL
Isles’ unique blend of speed and ability has done more than just earn him the moniker, “the fastest man in rugby.”
It has some within the rugby community believing that Isles could very well be the key to a run to an Olympic medal in the sport, which is making its return to the Summer Games for the first time since the U.S. won back-to-back golds in the 1920 Antwerp and 1924 Paris competitions.
“As a kid, this is what I dreamed of,” Isles said. “This is what I imagined and this is my vision. For me to win a gold medal would mean everything. All the hard work, the sacrificing, the tears, the loneliness, the fight, the struggle, all of it, it would be crazy because it would all be worth it. At the end of it, all of it would be worth it.”