From athlete to coach: Wilkes County athlete demonstrates true leadership

From left: James Cassity, David Caldwell and Ethan Cassity

Bright and early on Sunday, June 3rd, Ethan Cassity of Special Olympics Wilkes County began his warm up for the powerlifting competition at the 2018 Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games. In preparation for the long day of competition ahead, one of his coaches, David Caldwell, gave him a brief pep talk of encouragement.

Despite Cassity’s determination, the competition was tougher than anticipated. Missing a squat, Cassity felt his nerves rising up and almost quit until Caldwell took him aside. Showing him the proper technique, Caldwell talked him through the squat and reminded Cassity to be confident in his abilities.

Cassity allowed Caldwell’s words to sink in and he prepared to try again. Focusing completely on his form and the way the weight felt in his hands, Cassity pushed through the squat and ended up with the bronze medal that day!

Caldwell’s ability to help Cassity through his nerves impressed even the veteran coaches, like Cassity’s father, James.

“David got Ethan back on track,” said James. “I would have not been able to do that.”

But Coach Caldwell knows exactly how to motivate a Special Olympics athlete because he is one! Though Caldwell loves to compete in powerlifting and golf with Special Olympics Wilkes County, a knee injury has kept him from competing at this time.

“I wanted to stay involved in powerlifting,” said Caldwell. “I am working on my health so I can compete again.”

Using his powerlifting background, Caldwell decided to continue attending practice and began working with the athletes. Not wanting to miss out on participating in powerlifting, Caldwell reached out to Cassity’s father, James, who started the powerlifting program in Wilkes County.

“One day at practice, David asked me if he could be a coach and I was thrilled to have his help,” said James.

And just like that, Caldwell began to find a new way to enjoy his favorite sport: coaching!

After completing all the requirements to become a certified powerlifting coach, Caldwell soon became the assistant powerlifting coach for Wilkes County. Now, he coaches Cassity, along with fellow athlete Billy Joe Nelson.

The trio hits the gym three times a week to practice. Cassity enjoys becoming stronger from each practice and appreciates instruction from both his father and Caldwell.

“David knows a lot more than I do when it comes to powerlifting,” said Cassity. “I really like having him as my coach.”

Though they were already friends from years of training and competing together, the bond between Cassity and Caldwell has grown even stronger during their time as athlete and coach.

“Ethan and I work well together,” said Caldwell. “I get to teach him all of the things I know about powerlifting and we have so much fun.”

As the years have passed, Caldwell has developed not only as an athlete and teammate, but as an athlete leader, too. While he coaches Cassity in the gym, Caldwell also mentors him in becoming a leader in their local program and for the state. Caldwell has served on the Special Olympics North Carolina Athlete Council for many years and has helped to make an impact on many aspects of the organization.

Recently, Cassity was also selected to be part of the SONC Athlete Council, following in Caldwell’s footsteps. As this is Caldwell’s last year on the council, he is excited to help coach Cassity through becoming a voice for his fellow athletes.

“Although this is my last year, I still want to be involved with the athletes,” said Caldwell. “I want to reach out to as many athletes as I can, and hopefully open the door for opportunities from Special Olympics for athletes.”

After Summer Games, Cassity and Caldwell were back in the gym first thing on Monday, ready to begin training again. The duo take no days off and soon will begin training in golf, in which both athletes will be able to compete. Despite having to compete against each other in golf, the pair make it very clear: they are friends first.

“Competing is about the sportsmanship and having fun,” said Cassity. “It doesn’t matter about the medals; we just enjoy participating.”

As for Caldwell, coaching has become just as important as competing. Whether he’s doing the heavy lifting or just there for support, the love of the sport has him hooked for life.

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