Man with Down syndrome competes in bodybuilding competition

By Feven Kay

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    LAS VEGAS (KVVU) -- When you meet Joe Burwell, the first thing you notice is his beaming smile. Shining almost as bright are the medals he proudly dawns around his neck.

Last month the 19-year-old with Down syndrome competed in his first bodybuilding competition and won. FOX5 visited Joe at his happy place: the catalyst to his bodybuilding dreams, also known EOS Fitness. That’s where he met Jake Mader a year and a half ago. Mader is the lead trainer at the Henderson gym and Joe’s bodybuilding coach.

Mader is legally blind and knows all about overcoming obstacles.

“Six months ago Joe told me his dream is to step on stage and be a builder,” said Mader.

When we asked Joe why he wanted to be a bodybuilder, he said that he wants to be like champion bodybuilder, Ronnie Coleman.

“He’s the king of bodybuilding,” said Joe.

So, the dynamic duo got to work.

“I’m just doing it for my dreams,” said Joe.

The pair spent months training vigorously, while Joe followed a strict diet.

“Joe knows every single thing that goes into his body,” said Mader “Just keeping track of all that on top of preparing it is a journey in itself.”

Joe’s parents, Kathy and Jerry Burwell, supporting and cheering Joe on every step of the way.

“He puts his schedule together for himself,” said Jerry. “He makes his own lunches when he gets home from school. He’s learning to be very independent.”

Mom and Dad couldn’t be prouder, watching their child defy all odds. Not only was Joe born with Down syndrome. He was also born with a hole down the middle of his heart.

“When he had it repaired, they told us we would probably go home without him,” said Kathy. “Through a lot of prayer, miraculously he came out of it.”

Despite Joe’s challenges, his parents have made it a point to treat him no different than his siblings.

“We expect everything out of him like we would any of our other kids,” said Jerry.

What started as a mission to drop quarantine weight turned into a life-changing experience. Since beginning his bodybuilding journey, Joe has gained a whole lot of muscle. He also gained some notoriety.

“We’ve actually had people come up to us in the gym and ask if they could get their picture with Joe,” said Jerry.

District Manager Brittany Domstrand is happy that Joe chose EOS Fitness to train.

“When you walk into the gym and they’re training you can hear them from the front desk,” said Domstrand. “You always know when Joe is training with Jake because the energy in the club is just infectious.”

Fighting back tears, Mader said, “I probably learned more from him than he’s learned from me.” “It’s a pleasure getting to work with him every day. It really is.”

Joe will spend the summer training for his next bodybuilding competition happening in the fall at the Rio in Las Vegas.

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