Special Olympics Wisconsin Athlete Leader Cole Cleworth of Wisconsin Rapids flexed his leadership muscles during the 2019 Wisconsin Self-Determination Conference held at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells from October 14-16.
Cleworth staffed the Special Olympics Wisconsin information table during the conference organized by the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. The conference included presentations and sessions aimed at empowering people with disabilities to have more control over their lives. Cleworth represented Special Olympics Wisconsin in the exhibitor hall, where he talked to conference guests about sports and health programming to recruit new athletes and supporters.
“I like being a good leader and setting a good example for other athletes. It gives me a chance to work with others and share about Special Olympics Wisconsin.” – Special Olympics Wisconsin Athlete Leader Cole Cleworth
This leadership opportunity gave Cleworth a chance to do some things he loves: share about Special Olympics and meet new people. “I like being a good leader and setting a good example for other athletes. It gives me a chance to work with others and share about Special Olympics Wisconsin,” Cleworth said.
Cleworth’s leadership and knowledge of Special Olympics Wisconsin has even helped him land a spot on Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Athlete Input Council, a group of athletes dedicated to providing feedback and ideas for improving the organization.
It was precisely this experience as an athlete leader that helped Cleworth to be so successful as a Special Olympics Wisconsin spokesperson during the conference.
“I have to attribute some of that ease to his experiences with Special Olympics, the Athlete Input Council, and his Special Olympics mentors.” – Cole’s mom, Debi Cleworth
His mom, Debi Cleworth, helped him work the exhibit. She was impressed by how natural he was in his outreach efforts. “It was so cool to watch Cole ‘work the room,’ so to speak. I had several other exhibitors come up to me at the table and mention that Cole had come over and talked to them, and told them about Special Olympics, and told them to check out the table,” she said. “I have to attribute some of that ease to his experiences with Special Olympics, the Athlete Input Council, and his Special Olympics mentors.”
Although Cleworth and his mom didn’t get to attend any of the workshops since they were working the Special Olympics Wisconsin table, they did find considerable inspiration in the microenterprise vendors – entrepreneurs who were differently-abled who were selling handcrafted products like jewelry, hats, clothing, crafts, jams and art. As one young man, an author who suffered a brain injury as a child told them, “I choose to focus on what I can do, not on what I can’t do.”
Although Cleworth was the Special Olympics Wisconsin rep for the exhibit, he wasn’t the only athlete in attendance for the conference. Athlete Cindy Bentley of Milwaukee presented during the conference and was a member of the Conference Planning Committee. Meanwhile, fellow Athlete Input Council member Eresi Yarney of Grafton attended the conference and even helped Cleworth out at the Special Olympics Wisconsin display for a while in between workshops.
Whatever their role at the conference was though, all the Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes were there to showcase what people with disabilities are capable of.
In the words of Cole Cleworth, they were there to show the world “that anybody can do anything — we can do great things.”