Asnage Castelly, a community college wrestling coach in Springfield, will compete in the Rio Olympics this summer—but first, he had to convince the nation of Haiti to let him be the first to represent them in a sport that doesn’t really exist there.

Castelly left a mud house in the Haitian countryside when he was 9 years old. He didn’t speak any English when he moved to New Jersey.

“So I was that kid, raising my hand, ‘Oui, non,’" he said. "Everybody’s like, ‘What’s wrong with this weird kid?’ I used to get picked on. That’s where it comes back to fighting.”

He said his mother used to get upset about him getting in fights, but then one day he saw Olympic wrestling on TV.

“Then I realized I could wrestle," Castelly said. "It’s controlled fighting. I won’t get in trouble with my mother no more.”

It wasn’t a sport he’d really seen in Haiti.

“I remember growing up, even now you go, bunch of young men would just grab each other, try to slam each other," he said. "We don’t know the rules to it, but nobody ever got hurt.”

On the third floor of an unremarkable brick building in Springfield recently, Castelly grabbed another wrestler around his chest and slammed him to the ground. He’s an assistant coach in this gym. He also coaches the team at Springfield Technical Community College—and he’s in training himself.

His coach, Anibal Nieves, wore a Haiti Wrestling t-shirt. Nieves grew up in New York and was a two-time Olympian for the Puerto Rican team, so it made sense to him when Castelly said he wanted to wrestle for Haiti.

“When Asnage asked me, I said, ‘Why not?’" Nieves said. "A lot of people said, ‘You’re crazy.’ They laughed, just like they did me.”

It’s actually common now for Olympic athletes to compete for countries where they’re not currently living. And while Castelly’s definitely Haitian, he’s also very American. In fact, he served a tour in Iraq as a Muslim chaplain in the U.S. Army. Still, when it came to wrestling, he decided to pitch the idea to officials in the country where he was born.

"They’re like, ‘Uh, we don’t have wrestling,’" he said. "I’m like, ‘What do you mean you don’t have it?’ I write them over and over."

"‘Uh, who are you?'" he said they kept asking him. "'Why you keep on writing? We do not have wrestling.'”

Finally, Castelly managed to convince them that they should have wrestling, and that he could do it for them. He competed for Haiti in freestyle wrestling championships as far away as Mongolia. He did well, but not enough to qualify for the Rio Olympics. But the sport’s international governing body gets to grant a wild-card spot in the Olympics. Early one morning in May, Castelly said he couldn’t sleep.

“So I just checked my email, and it said, from United Wrestling, 'You have been selected for the wild card, based on performance, blah blah,'" he said. "I didn’t believe it."

Sure enough, he’d been given a shot to go to Rio. And while that’s a huge personal achievement for him, he’s not done yet.

“You don’t want to just be there. Just say ‘Oh, I was in the games,’" he said. "You want to continue making history. Before we even got the qualification we were looking at the record, what was the last time someone from Haiti won a medal was 1928.”

That’s any Olympic medal.

Castelly goes back and forth to Haiti all the time. His wife and son live there, and he’s planning on moving there himself after the Olympics. He and his wife are working on introducing the sport to a couple of schools there this year.

“Now what am I going to do to take the country to the next step?" he said. "Go out to the school. Go out to the street—there’s a bunch of kids who are doing nothing, getting in trouble—and give them them the opportunity, the same opportunity I received from wrestling. Hopefully they’ll be able to experience it, too.”

His goal is to have wrestling teams at schools nationwide in Haiti by 2020.