January 17, 2014

Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) athlete Luke Leohner, 32, is like the many of us who first venture into the workforce without a clear sense of direction.

Over the years, Leohner has worked at John Deer, McDonald’s and in the kitchen of a local hospital. But when he started powerlifting with SOWI and his trainer, University of Wisconsin-Stout Police Officer Kevin Goodell, seven years ago, he felt the urge to transition from the food to the fitness industry.

One of his friends and training partners, Jason Nicols, had joined Anytime Fitness and encouraged him to apply for a cleaning position there. As soon as he landed the job, everything started falling into place.

In between cleaning the machines and facility, he would watch members flex their muscles and rack weight onto the bar. This motivated him to lift with Jesse, a trainer at the gym, in addition to his training with Special Olympics. Before long, he was dead lifting a jaw dropping 450 pounds.

According to his supervisor, Stephanie Stallman, his work ethic is just as strong as his ambition.

“He has great spirit,” she said. “He’s always more than willing to do anything asked of him.”

“Members often compliment him on how clean the place is,” his mother added.

Leohner is just one of more than 1,150 Special Olympics athletes who is currently employed.  For Leohner, having a job is a necessity.

“He needs a job because he needs to be social,” his mother said.

According to Stallman, the gym finds it beneficial to employ individuals with intellectual disabilities because it helps them become independent and creates a more inclusive work environment.

“It is important to help them gain skills and learn…what it is like to work,” she said.

You can help reveal the champion in athletes like Leohner.  This tax season, do something Special.  Make a contribution to Special Olympics Wisconsin by designating an amount in the “Donations” section of your state income tax form. For more information on how to donate, please visit http://sowi.wpengine.com/taxcheckoff/.

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