Gold Beach Chief of Police Dixon Andrews smiles when asked about the 45 athletes under his charge. He is, after all, their head coach. Now in his third year as head coach of the Curry Special Olympics, Andrews and his crew are preparing to travel to Newberg, where they will represent Curry County at the Oregon statewide Special Olympics during the second week of July.
According to Andrews it won't be an easy task: There will be 10,000 athletes gathered for the big event from counties across the state.
Wait, there's that smile again. ...
Andrews says the grin is because he is delighted to be working with "some incredibly talented and hard-working individuals."
Recently, 18 Curry Special Olympic hopefuls shined at the regionals held in Grants Pass.
"I couldn't be more proud" Andrews said. That's because his athletes "competed to the best of their ability and that made them winners, but some of them even medaled along the way!"
The regionals featured athletes from seven counties - Curry, Coos, Douglas, Lincoln, Josephine, Klamath and Jackson.
Curry's athletes racked up a total of 19 medals. Seven gold, six silver and six bronze were earned in several track and field events ranging from 50-meter dash to the 1,500-meter run, and from shot put to softball throws.
Andrews has help from a small band of volunteers, Mason Parks and Debbie Schriver and Trish McCarten and Kelli Brown.
"These folks are out here every weekend all year long helping these athletes," he said. "I couldn't do it without them."
Andrews got his start with the Special Olympics back in the 1980s when he became involved with the "Torch Run" for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
He says that once he was given the opportunity to work with people with intellectual disabilities he was "hooked."
He explains, "When you have one of these athletes up on the podium, and you place a medal around their neck, and you see the smile on their face, it changes you."
The Curry contingent has Special Olympic athletes who range in age from 8 to 80. Andrews indicates that there is no established age limit. Norman Siegart, for example, is 63 and Ted Hargrove is 75.
Hargrove won a gold medal for his performance in the 50 meter assisted-walk event.
Andrews says that the same rules for sports apply for Special Olympians as well.
"No one gets an easy out," he declared. "If someone places a toe over the starting line that athlete is 'DQ'd' (disqualified)."
Special Olympians train nearly year-round. Spring features track and field, golf and softball. Fall is bowling, swimming and soccer. Winter brings on weight lifting, basketball, bocce ball and skiing.
Andrews says that a reoccurring challenge for his athletes is being able to recognize that not everyone is going to be awarded a medal. Every participant earns a ribbon for their efforts, but 'that' coveted medal is reserved for a top three finish in each event.
"Everyone always expects to win a medal, but naturally not everyone does. We have ribbons for every runner-up, but sometimes it's hard to explain a ribbon to somebody who had their heart set on that medal," he said.
The Special Olympics require some fundraising efforts as well. Andrews broke it down.
"Think about what it costs to take about 30 athletes to go bowling, for example. There's the shoe rentals, two games per athlete, a snack and fuel costs. It adds up quickly."
The Gold Beach top cop had previously lowered fishing buckets from the roof of a donut shop in Clakamas to retrieve funds from listeners below who came down to support his department's mission.
Andrews also took "Polar Bear plunge" donations for jumping into icy Portland area rivers.
"You do what you gotta do!" he shrugs.
In Curry County, the police chief has spearheaded the raffle of a Harley Davidson motorcycle for $1,400 and raised $600 dollars by getting donors' names onto an honor roll plaque.
Once a year he also makes a pilgrimage to a Special Olympics-friendly Red Robin restaurant in Portland. There, Andrews dons an apron and waits on tables for tax deductible tips. This all goes toward the costs: travel to meets, fees, and equipment purchases.
"Thirty T-shirts that are printed to say "Curry County Special Olympics" for athletes to wear at the games are $500 alone," he said.
Andrews admits that, while preparing local athletes for the Special Olympics is a lot of work, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"These kids all take an oath before they compete. It goes like this: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Andrews is surrounded by many such brave athletes. No wonder this man is smiling.