RICHMOND (CBS 5) – Hundreds of developmentally disabled athletes have a special opportunity to compete and win many medals, thanks to the dedication of this week’s Jefferson Award winner. He’s an East Bay man, whom many parents call a quiet leader.

Before he joined the Richmond Buffaloes Special Olympics team, 18-year-old Benjie White’s life was different.

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“We had people telling us all things Benjie couldn’t do,” his father, Tom White, remembered. “Since he got involved in Special Olympics, he’s a doer.”

The White family gave thanks to team coordinator Andy Cho. Andy co-founded the Richmond Buffaloes in 1998 when he couldn’t find activities in Richmond for his severely autistic son, Devin. Today, Devin is 18, and the Buffaloes team has grown from ten athletes to 70 who make a splash in several sports, from swimming to basketball.

“It just started as track and kept getting bigger and bigger,” Cho explained.

And Cho helped start a special track meet to include kids under eight who are too young to compete in the Special Olympics. Today, 200 kids and adults race.

“That’s what Special Olympics is about,” he said. “It’s not just about practice, but getting teamwork and competition and learning the sports.”

Twenty-year-old B.N. Ballesteros said he feels proud to compete.

“Gold medal, bronze medal, silver medal… I’ve won ’em all,” he reported.

His father, Bert, credited Cho and the team for B.N.’s transformation from the time he used to stay in one room and play electronic games.

“Now, he socializes a lot, he likes to talk about what he did,” he said.

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Twenty-two-year-old Lucie Stott is having a ball.

“It’s fun, it’s good exercise,” Scott said.

Her mother Terri noticed even more.

“It’s given her a social outlet, skill development and confidence,” she said.

In addition to Special Olympics, Cho started the REACH West nonprofit in 2009 to help developmentally disabled adults with resources from education to housing. Tom White said Cho is a quiet, but effective leader.

“Andy has the ability to lead by his personality, his willingness to do all the time, to give all the time and bring out the best of others,” White said.

Cho said the athletes make all of his work worthwhile.

“That’s what keeps me going. Is seeing that completion, that pure joy, the smiles from the athletes, it’s incredible,” said Cho.

So for creating opportunities for developmentally disabled athletes, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Andy Cho.

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