‘He was the most driven young man’

Robert Drenk’s large Huntington Beach home has a waterfall, an outside fireplace and two pink rooms for his toddlers.

That’s a far cry from the years when he slept on couches as his family moved back and forth between Lake Perris and Florida.

Drenk’s father had a $40,000-a-year job in aerospace during the 1980s and ‘90s, but with seven children to support, that salary didn’t go too far.

Drenk knew he didn’t want that life. He wanted money, power and success and was determined to work hard to get it.

The 34-year-old is now president at Optimum First Mortgage in Fountain Valley but is perhaps better known in some circles as the founder of the Ultimate Armwrestling League (UAL).

But getting a grip on his career took time.

During his late teens and early 20s, while his peers were socializing, Drenk worked in various management and sales positions.

“For me, it was just getting out of high school and wanting to work and make money rather than partying,” he said. “All my life, I was into sales and people and was a great judge of character.

“I did one semester of college at Orange Coast College, but that really wasn’t for me,” he said. “I was more apt to wanting to just get the job experience and work.”

Once the money started coming in, he bought luxury vehicles. By age 21, Drenk said, he owned at least 15 cars, including a new Dodge Viper, a high-performance sports car.

In his early 20s, Drenk worked in management positions at motor home dealerships, including Mike Thompson RV in Fountain Valley and McMahon’s RV in Westminster, earning about $80,000 a year.

He developed a unique sales style — arm wrestling and often beating customers trying to bargain for lower prices.

This was a technique Drenk developed in elementary school, and it got him in trouble with his teachers.

“There’s something about competing against people, and it being one-on-one, with no excuses,” he said. “It gives me a rush.”

Mike Ancich, sales director at Mike Thompson RV, described Drenk as “dynamic and charming.”

“I just couldn’t hold him back,” he said. “He was the most driven young man, and he’s never been afraid to ask those who have done it before him what it took for them to get there. He’s just a real intelligent, driven planner. As he does well in one business, I think he’s always thinking about his next business.”

A few years later, Drenk decided to open his own business selling recreational vehicles in San Diego County and was successful for a time.

As the Great Recession loomed, Drenk said he tried to make his business succeed, even resorting to sleeping on the dealership lot while he owned a home in Irvine. But ultimately he had to sell the dealership in late 2007.

Drenk then tried his hand at used hybrid vehicles, which were popular because of soaring gas prices, and purchased 30 cars out of pocket.

When gas prices declined again, so did the value of hybrids, leaving Drenk bankrupt in 2008.

He went back to McMahon’s RV for a stint.

“The RV business was just dying, and everyone was going bankrupt,” he said. “I did everything I could to help them survive, but I was eventually let go after living six months on the dealership lot in an RV.”

Eventually, Drenk became a partner in Optimum First Mortgage, a company run by his best friend, Matthew Dohman.

The company, which started with two employees, now has 50, and it has funded more than 10,000 loans since 2010.

“When I first met Robert, when I was 16, he seemed to have already figured out life and have a grip on it at an early age,” Dohman said. “I think he’s taken that personality and his grasp for life and just ran with it. He’s got this personality where he just likes to conquer things.”

In 2010, Drenk decided to create the “UFC of arm wrestling.”

The UAL’s first competition was three months later, in July 2010, in Venice Beach.

The event had a big turnout, including real arm wrestlers from the movie “Over the Top,” Drenk said.

Now, the UAL hosts tournaments all over the world, including one scheduled for May 23 in Long Beach, and has more than 1,000 male and female competitors and 183 contracted athletes worldwide.

He still likes fast cars and competition, but more than anything else, Drenk said, his passion is his wife and their daughters, ages 3 and 17 months.

“The biggest accomplishment in my life is my family,” he said. “Everything in life is temporary, but the only thing in life that continues to make me feel good is coming home every day to just a loving family.”