Beech Grove resident Nick Newlon is a Special Olympics athlete, an exemplary employee, and a wildly-talented musician. But to describe this young man as a “triple threat” would be a hasty circumscription.
In the face of life’s challenges, Newlon, 20, has been surrounded by benefactors. Yet he’s been more than just a beneficiary—for every cent of support he’s received, Newlon has invested that currency in developing his talents and fortifying his abilities.
For years, Newlon has been competing in Special Olympics. And while you might witness Newlon and 19 of his teammates vying for first place in an event like the “plane pull” (a tug-of-war of sorts, with a 727 airplane), he’s just as quick to cheerlead his fellow contestants. “It feels like we’re all friends, and it feels good to be around them.”
Collective feats of strength aside, bowling is really Newlon’s bailiwick. After placing in the top three during the Indiana sectionals, Newlon will compete in the statewide Special Olympics bowling tournament on December 3 at Woodland Bowl. And any sort of “trash talking,” Newlon assures, is uttered in good clean fun.
Throughout the workweek, Newlon trades in his identity as an athletic competitor for a different designation: facilities assistant at Central Nine Career Center, where he was enrolled as a student before graduating in 2010 from Beech Grove High School. During his years at C-9, Newlon made an indelible impression. His former teacher, Tom Jacobs, who heads-up the graphic imagining technology department at the career center, remembers Newlon, “showing up every single day ready to learn, and he was always willing to go the extra mile.” Reflecting on his days as a student in Jacobs’s class, Newlon says, “Those days were crazy and good at the same time. Being in Mr. J’s class, and volunteering in his class, helped me work hard and be dedicated.”
Thanks to Newlon’s mother placing a phone call to Easter Seals, he met Nancy Washburn, who became his job coach and who later encouraged the young man to apply at his vocational alma mater. “We get along really well,” he says of Washburn. “Whenever I have a question, she does everything, to the best of her ability, to help me.” Newlon is quiet for a moment, pondering something. “It just helps having someone like her. And I’d just like to tell her thank you.”
Newlon’s daily duties vary at the career center, but whatever task is on the unpredictable list, he’s accompanied by his on-site mentor, John Showalter. “We have a good time,” Newlon says. “There’re days when we have to clean the bus garage, or other days things need to be fixed, but I just like the chance to know things—all sorts of different things.”
Despite his other interests and responsibilities, Newlon’s heartstrings remain finely tuned to the craft of bluegrass music. “I used to listen to my dad play guitar,” Newlon recalls. “I started playing mandolin when I was 8, and I bought my second mandolin when I was 14.” Shortly thereafter, Newlon acquired an F5 Gibson mandolin. Influenced by his heroes like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and The Stanley Brothers, it took little time for Newlon to assemble a bluegrass ensemble. Newlon is a member of the local group, the Battleground String Band, which is scheduled to perform live on Purdue University’s radio station, AM 920, from 7-9 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2012.
“It never really surprised me that Nick was so talented,” says Jacobs, cracking a grin. “So it wasn’t just his talent, it was that he had so many.”
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