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Rude Dogs Pump It Up

Special Olympics Powerlifters Are Dedicated, And Strong

Story and photos by Reid Neureiter

For the GPHC

If you happen by Denver’s Rude Recreation Center at 2855 W Holden Pl. (just off Federal Boulevard) on Monday evenings at 6:30 p.m., you will come across a group of athletes who are as dedicated as they are strong. 

In black T-shirts with “Rude Dogs Powerlifting Team” emblazoned on the back, they are Denver’s Special Olympic powerlifting team, practicing for regional and state competitions. 

The Rude Dogs, named after the rec center where they practice, has been in existence since 2003. The team has been coached since its inception by Tom Miller, who works by day as an account manager for the oilfield services company Schlumberger. 

Coach Miller started volunteering with Special Olympics in 2002, and took over as powerlifting coach in 2003. One of his athletes, Jason Sulweski, known as “Big Show,” has been with the team the longest, since 2004. Although Sulweski is retired from lifting, he now acts as the team manager. One woman on the Rude Dogs squad, Anna Casebolt, is married to fellow Rude Dog Dean Casebolt. Coach Miller says that the Rude Dogs would welcome other females interested in powerlifting, but they are a rarity in Colorado. 

Currently, the Rude Dogs team has 11 lifters and an additional six volunteer assistant coaches helping Miller both to train the athletes and to ensure the practices and competitions are both safe and fun. In fact, the Rude Dogs motto is “Be Safe and Have Fun!” which is repeated at the start of every practice and meet. 

Rude Dogs Powerlifting Special Olympic Team members during the first practice of the year, on March 11.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Rude Dogs team members have a variety of disabilities, and face numerous challenges, including just getting to and from practice, whether via public transportation or Accessaride – an ordeal that sometimes can take longer than the practice itself. But Miller has never heard one of his athletes use his or her disability as an excuse. 

“Powerlifting is a tough sport, and these athletes are tough,” says Miller. “Considering what they have overcome in their lives, the mountains they have climbed are almost incomprehensible to folks who do not struggle with a disability.”

Anna Casebolt gets advice from Coach Tom Miller during a team practice earlier this year.

The lifters set personal goals each season. “The active process of setting a goal and working hard to achieve it is a healthy process, for anyone,” says Miller. 

Rude Dog Jerome Crump currently holds the Colorado State Deadlift record for his age and weight at 410 pounds. Other Rude Dogs have managed to lift twice their body weight in the deadlift. One retired Rude Dog lifter, Nikia Davenport , won a gold and two bronze medals at the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles and was honored by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

Assistant coaches Gabe Villavicencio (no hat) and Brian Sullivan help strap in new team member James Mace for safety as he practices his bench press form.

Observing the Rude Dogs athletes and coaches in person makes clear that this collection of athletes is a “team” in more than just a name. On March 11, the season’s first practice, the Rude Dogs wore buttons with the picture of their teammate, Mike Duran, aka “Ghost,” who passed away last year. Miller described Duran as a “kind-hearted gentle giant.” At competitions, Duran wore a mask and competed as his alter-ego, a super hero named “Ghost.” The 2019 Rude Dog season is dedicated to Duran. 

“The athletes are my friends, plain and simple,” Miller says. “I care deeply about them and I know they care about me. There is a transparency in the way in which we communicate that’s unique. There are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives. They are proud to say they are powerlifters. That word means and conveys a lot.”

Coach Tom Miller leads a team cheer during a practice in March.

In early April the Rude Dogs participated in the regional meet in Greeley and were on the podium for every category they entered. They won several, achieved several personal bests, and had the only two female lifters at the meet.

Rude Dog lifter Anna Casebolt led everyone in the athletes oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The state competition is in Grand Junction from June 7-9. Miller suggests that anyone interested in participating as an athlete or a volunteer coach contact Special Olympics Colorado (specialolympicsco.org), for more information. Miller says that while the Rude Dogs are “pretty well set up with coaches right now, there are many, many other SOCO teams that need volunteers and there are many ways to help out, from coaching to being a unified partner, to donating badly needed funds to support the many programs.”


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