His sort of motivational messages are scribbled in marker on a poster hanging in his room: Carlin Isles is too small. Too weird. Not good enough. Won't amount to anything.
Simple reminders the rugby/track standout has jotted down of all the negative things said about him. Fuel to go faster, he explained.
As a kid growing up in foster care who was constantly getting into fights, running away from home and hardly ever had enough food on his plate, Isles promised himself it wouldn't always be like this. He and his twin sister were eventually adopted, and his freaky fast speed led him down a different path.
The 26-year-old is a good bet to earn a spot on Team USA as rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut at the Rio Games. Maybe even in track as well, should he qualify in the 100 meters at the Olympic trials in July.
Doubt he can accomplish it? That's exactly why he created his poster.
"I've been through a lot and that just makes me hungry," said Isles, who will compete in the opening round of the 60 meters Friday at the U.S. indoor championships in Portland, Oregon. "I'm hungry to be somebody. I'm hungry for success. I'm scared to be ordinary."
His tale is far from ordinary.
The last image he has of his birth mother was through the back of a police car when he and his sister were taken away when they were young. In foster care, he never celebrated a birthday. He couldn't read or write very well, either. Meals were so scarce that out of necessity he would eat anything, including dog food.
"It was survival," said Isles, who grew up in Massillon, Ohio. "I just prayed to get out of that life. I wanted a better life, where I wouldn't be just another statistic. Because if I continued like that, I'd probably be dead or in jail."
Enter Starlett and Charles Isles, who were eager to expand their family. They adopted Carlin and his sister Cambra — two minutes older — when they were nearly 8 years old.
Almost instantly, things changed. As he settled in, Carlin realized he had a talent — speed.
He was coaxed out for football, but had trouble learning the plays (he struggled to read until middle school). In the backyard, his adoptive father set up milk jugs as offensive linemen to teach him what holes to burst through.
And did he ever burst. This is an athlete who said he once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.13 seconds.
The 5-foot-8, 168-pound Isles ended up at Ashland University, where he excelled in track, setting the school's indoor record in the 60 meters (6.68 seconds), and on the football field, once returning a kickoff 100 yards.
"His talent really came through, even more than any of us could even imagine," said Starlett, who has eight kids, five that were adopted.
After college came a quandary — what to do with that quickness? The doors weren't exactly open for football or track.
"I didn't want to work a 9-to-5 job, because I knew I had a gift," Carlin Isles said.
He was looking on the Internet for a track workout when he stumbled upon footage of rugby. Intrigued, he did some digging and placed some calls to Team USA for guidance. They set him up with a club team in Aspen, Colorado.
One problem — getting there. Using the last $500 to his name, he moved himself to the mountains to learn a new sport.
Turns out, he was a natural.
His speed was so extraordinary that he was dubbed "the fastest man in rugby." There's a highlight reel of his explosive moves that's been viewed more than 6.7 million times on YouTube.
That blazing speed led a top rugby team from Scotland — the Glasgow Warriors — to sign him. It wasn't just rugby teams drawing interest, either. The Detroit Lions added him to their practice squad before he elected to focus on rugby.
"That's where my purpose was," explained Isles, who's sponsored by Red Bull, Nike, Citibank and California Almonds.
This weekend, as his U.S. rugby teammates play in Vancouver, British Columbia, he's making a detour to Oregon to dabble in sprinting. He only recently dusted off his spikes to see if he still could fly down the track in a race.
He could. With very little training, too.
Now, he's thinking big — Olympic trials and trying to earn a spot for the Rio Games in a second sport.
Watch out, Usain Bolt. No, really.
"Yeah, I can beat Bolt," cracked Isles, who currently lives in San Diego. "That would be a tough one, but I'm not going to say no. Because who puts limits on themselves?"
Certainly not Isles.
Early in his life, there were doubters who said he wouldn't amount to anything. He made mental notes of those derogatory comments and compiled his poster a few years ago. There are positive messages as well, like "Don't chase your dream — outrun it."
"I've painted the picture of my life just how I wanted to paint it," Isles said.
His version of the picture ends only one way — with a gold medal.
"That would mean everything," Isles said. "All the suffering, all the tears, all the sacrifice, it would be all worth it."
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