When David Derby first came to Lake Panasoffkee, it hit a little too close to home.
It is a town plagued by drug activity, much like where he lived as a child. Despite that, David never fell prey because of a wrestling coach in his past who drilled into his head that the only way to become a champion was to stay away from drugs and focus on “the grind.”
“In wrestling, the grind is the day-to-day work it takes to reach your goals and become a champion; the workouts, the push-ups, the sit-ups, the never quit mentality,” David says.
In September 2022, David debuted the Lake Panasoffkee Wrestling Club, an after-school youth program in Wildwood he, with help from Assistant Coach Vince Phelps, uses to instill that same mindset.
“Like I tell the kids, ‘It’s not Lake Panasoffkee, it’s PanasHARDkee, but you can beat anything by doing what it takes, by never quitting, whether you like something or not,’ and that’s where wrestling comes in,” David says. “Wrestling is the hardest sport there is, and before practice I tell them it’s going to be the hardest hour-and-a-half of their day, but if they can get through it, they can say no to drugs. It’s getting them comfortable in uncomfortable positions, teaching them discipline, and growing their self confidence.”
To further demonstrate success, David candidly discusses his own unsuccessful life choices.
David says he never did drugs, but he made a habit of getting into trouble, goofing off and hanging with the wrong crowd. He excelled in wrestling and got into college but flunked out. He survived being shot in the face and went to prison for fighting and anger issues.
While serving time, he was saved. From there he became an amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) cage fighter and boxer, scoring more than 44 knockouts in his career.
Today, after raising seven successful children of his own by using the same “go for the grind” mentality his program is based on, David believes he has come into his most rewarding season yet.
He is training for the world championships next month and is working towards a psychology degree at Lake Sumter State College.
Even so, his heart is with the children whose lives he’s touched.
“I’m so proud of these kids. They are embracing the discipline and fighting their way to becoming champions. I see their potential and I want to prepare them for the peer pressure,” David says. “I’ve been peer pressured into so many things and ended up making so many bad decisions that I don’t want them to have to go through that. I tell them, ‘Don’t do like coach did.’ And they get it.”
“Right now, I’m a coach who uses psychology, but in a few years I’ll be a psychologist who uses coaching.”