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Buncombe County powerlifter and coach form inseparable bond

After seven months of training together, Special Olympics Buncombe County powerlifter Matt Paoletti and his coach Joe Brown have formed a remarkable friendship.

Since starting powerlifting in 2011, 28-year-old Paoletti has competed in several local and state-level Special Olympics powerlifting competitions. But, this year with Brown’s help, Paoletti entered Summer Games in the strongest and best shape of his life. He was thrilled with his performance at Summer Games in early June and is as confident as ever, thanks to his training with Brown.

“I’m happy and I feel powerful,” Paoletti said.

Paoletti met his soon-to-be coach at WNC Barbell, a local gym that offers a weekly powerlifting training class for Special Olympics athletes. Special Olympics Buncombe County Athletes attend the class to practice leading up to Summer Games and other Special Olympics powerlifting events. Brown grew interested in the class and saw an opportunity to do something he had always dreamed of doing.

“I’ve always wanted to work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Brown commented.

After helping out with the class, Brown struck up a friendship with Paoletti. As their friendship grew, Brown decided to turn his passion for working with him into his senior class project. The two began meeting for two hours weekly leading up to Summer Games. In their meetings, Brown and Paoletti worked on form, technique and safety. Brown also tracked how a structured exercise schedule not only made Paoletti stronger, but also improved his overall happiness.

“You can just tell it made a difference in him,” Brown said.

Though the pair formed a remarkable bond as coach and athlete, their friendship is what made the experience truly unforgettable. They looked forward to seeing each other every week and to being able to share an experience that helped them both grow as individuals and as a athlete-coach team.

“I enjoy just simply spending time with him and seeing him excel in weightlifting,” Brown said.

Paoletti’s mother, Susan, has also noticed a difference in her son’s happiness since working with Brown. She knows there are plenty of athletes just like her son across the nation who can shine when given a chance.

“Folks with special needs can perform at the same level,” Paoletti’s mother said.

Helping Paoletti for seven special months has inspired Brown and he now has big dreams to pursue this type of work in the future.

“A big goal of mine is I want to start my own program,” Brown said.

Brown plans to attend nearby Mars Hill University in the fall, which means he will still be able to coach his friend as Paoletti goes for gold and gains confidence along the way.

Paoletti and Brown may have just met, but this appears to be the start of a life-long friendship.

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