Great expectations – Local teen’s aspirations raised for upcoming trip to D.C. |

Great expectations – Local teen’s aspirations raised for upcoming trip to D.C.

The Union photo/John HartCole Culler, 13, an eighth-grader at Ready Springs School, shares a light moment recently with Meg Hughes, who has helped take care of Cole for many years. Cole will be attending a national youth leadership camp in Washington, D.C., in November. He was born with brittle-bone disease and spends his afternoons helping coach his school's flag football team.
John R. Hart | The Union

Speeding up and down the sidelines on the playground at Ready Springs School, Cole Culler barks commands to his flag-football teammates.

He’s traveling as fast as his Ready Springs teammates are, in a north-and-south direction, keeping up with their churning legs as the players flail desperately at the flags fastened to their opponents’ waists.

Where his teammates wear cleats, Cole trolls along four wheels, his motorized chair often out-running his teammates along the grassy sideline.

If he can’t be running roughshod with the pigskin, Cole figures this is the next best thing,

“I just try to pump ’em up and make ’em confident and try to get them mad at the other team,” he said.

Thursday’s effort, alas, was in vain, as the Ready Springs team fell to Pleasant Valley, 25-14.

Running could be catastrophic for Cole, who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle-bone disease. Since birth, Cole estimates he’s broken 98 bones because of a collagen mutation in his bones that makes it impossible for him to walk or enjoy the incidental contact that comes with a flag-football game.

But on this particular day, pigskin and politics are on Cole’s mind, as he prepares for a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., to visit historical and political landmarks as part of the People To People World Leadership Forum Nov. 8-14.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Cole, 13, and several other Nevada County students will be visiting the cradle of American government just one week after a much-anticipated presidential election.

Cole, an ardent supporter of current President George W. Bush, is


“I hope the riots have stopped by then,” he cracked. “By the time we get to Washington, I figure it’ll be every man for himself.”

On President Bush, whom the Ready Springs School eighth-grader

hopes to meet, Cole is unequivocal:

“President Bush all the way. I think he needs to finish the job for four more years, clean up, and then let John Kerry go in and have some fun.”

Spoken like a true bipartisan leader, even though Cole won’t be able to vote for his first president until 2012.

The People to People organization has been taking groups of students and potential leaders to Washington since Dwight Eisenhower introduced a generation of Baby Boomers to Beltway politics in 1956.

Students are selected for the program on a teacher’s recommendation.

Cole was nominated for the program by his seventh-grade science teacher, Star Palumbo. Students who go to Washington can earn high school credits during the one-week trip.

Once there, students visit Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court, colonial settlements, Civil War battlefields and Arlington National Cemetery.

When Cole travels to Washington, he’ll be escorted by Meg Hughes, whom Cole often refers to as his second mom. Hughes has cared for Cole since he was an infant, watching Cole mature into an

outspoken and self-reliant young man. He still needs help sometimes, which is why Hughes is joining him on the trip.

“He’s kind of like having a kid that’s your best friend,” Hughes said

Thursday on the Ready Springs playground, where Cole spends most of his weekday afternoons.

Cole doesn’t dwell on his malady much. It doesn’t stop him from pursuing his passion of flying gas-powered remote-controlled airplanes or mastering “Metal Gear Solid 2” on his PlayStation 2 game system.

His upper-body strength allows him to go rock climbing, and he’s set a school record for chin-ups at Ready Springs School, his mother Kim said.

The video games help fuel his passion for a possible future career with NASA.

Cole wants to fly drones, the remote-controlled aircraft used recently in the war in Afghanistan.

“My grandfather used to work with that hush-hush stuff,” Cole said, eliciting a laugh from his father, Dave.

The job would be a perfect fit for Cole, who has relied on mental toughness his whole life, his mother said.

“At this point, I think anything is possible for him.”

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