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Olympian And Next Olympic Hopeful Mentor Carlin Isles Shares The Keys To Being A Successful Athlete

By Kara Tanner | Nov. 20, 2018, 5:25 p.m. (ET)

Carlin Isles (L) talks with a contestant on July 28, 2018 at Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful in Colorado Springs, Colo.


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- He’s back for round two.

Olympic rugby player Carlin Isles returned as a mentor for season two of "Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.”

Isles is a former NFL recruit and track athlete turned Olympian in a third sport. Isles now plays for the U.S. men’s national rugby sevens team, and is widely-known as the “fastest man in rugby.”

Isles talked with TeamUSA.org about his experience as a mentor on Next Olympic Hopeful, a talent-identification program created by the United States Olympic Committee to increase and enhance the pipeline of world-class athletes in Olympic sport. You can watch Isles and the 90 contestants who vie for eight spots on the two-part series airing Saturday, Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Sunday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. 

How have you enjoyed returning for a second season?
It’s been great. I’ve got the chance to continue to inspire other athletes, vibe with them and hear about their stories. They can hear about mine, and I try to inspire them to be what they want to be in life, whether it’s sports or not sports. I tried to give them a different perspective on things. 

What has been different for you this year as a mentor compared to Season 1?
The difference between last year and this year is that I’m more engaged and I do my best to let them know that ‘I’m just like you.’ I try to give them advice on how to become the best at their sport, and how they go about it. How do you go about to continue to strive to be where you want to be? The main thing is I want them to understand how tough it really is to be an Olympian or be a professional athlete in general. How strong you have to be mentally. I’m just guiding them every step of the way. 

What has it been like being a mentor alongside Olympic boxer Claressa Shields?
It’s been great. We feed off of each other. She’s very funny and outgoing, but she’s similar to me too – her work ethic, her drive and her focus. She’s very tenacious and fearless. I like that. 

What was it like to get into a boxing ring with a two-time Olympic champion like Claressa? 
It went well. She got me a couple times, but I got her too. I was challenged. I like boxing because I use to watch “Rocky,” but that was my first time ever being in the ring. It was so fun. 

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Is being a mentor difficult?
For me, I was so deep as an introvert that I would just exclude myself and do my own thing. Over the years, I’ve had to teach myself how to talk to people. I was so shy when it came to talking to people unless I was really passionate about something. There are so many different people here, I have to talk to everybody and communicate with people effectively. 

How do people typically react when they hear your story, transferring from one sport to another?
They can’t believe it. People are shocked. They ask me how I did it and how I became successful. They weren’t expecting someone who played football and track to switch to rugby. 

What are your plans for the future?
I want to do two more Olympics in 2020 and 2024. Beyond that, I’m always planning outside and trying to get myself settled before I retire. I’ve invested in businesses and traveling. I’ve done some motivational speaking. My sporting career is temporary, but I have an everlasting purpose and that’s what I’m after. 

What advice do you have for Olympic hopefuls and athletes of all ages?
You have to have a desire, a will and a tenaciousness about you. You have to have a focus that is impeccable. It has to be second to none. It’s not easy. It’s a process. A lot of people look at the product of an Olympian and yeah it’s cool, but the process is everything. 

The sacrifices that you make and the work that you have to do day in and day out regardless of whether you want to do it or not that all comes with it. A lot of people, when times get rough, they shy away. You can’t shy away or you will learn that you’re not meant for it. You have to be genuine, and anything that is genuine will last. It’s really about learning and being the best that you can be, and not relying on anyone else, but learning how to rely on yourself and how to motivate yourself. If you know how to motivate yourself, you will go so much further than the people you have to pat on the back the whole time. When you have that self-drive it’s going to be everything. Those are the little things. 

For me, I’m good at reading and understanding people. I can tell in your eyes how bad you really want it. A lot of people think they have what it takes. It’s rare to find that type of person.

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Carlin Isles