This summer, as many Bostonians headed to the beach to soak up the rays, one Dorchester native packed his bags with cycling gear and ventured off to Ireland. In July, Paul Andrews flew to Dublin and spent two weeks as part of a 16-member Massachusetts team representing the United States in the Special Olympics World Games, the first of its kind to take place outside of the U.S.
In Ireland, the Bay State team proved that practice pays off, bringing home 10 gold, nine silver and five bronze medals.
"My Ireland trip went very well. We went walking and saw some tours and raced our event," said Paul Andrews, a 33-year-old Dorchester native and cycling enthusiast.
Andrews competed in three cycling events: the 40K, the 25K and the 15K road races. He placed fourth in the 15K race, fourth in the 40K race and sixth in the 25K race.
The Special Olympics World Games brought more than 7,000 athletes from around the world to Dublin to compete in 21 sports. The games even attracted some Hollywood celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Farrell, U2, Nelson Mandela, Muhammed Ali, Ashley Judd, and Heather Locklear, who helped cheer on the athletes and show their support.
Schwarzenegger's mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in 1968. The international program provides training and competition for athletes with mental retardation in summer and winter sports.
Andrews, along with his teammates, trained for nearly a year to prepare for the July games. He balanced training with a full-time job, working nights at the Home Depot in Quincy.
"I was cycling for a long time, mostly every other day practicing," the Special Olympian said of his pre-race practice schedule. "We would go around the neighborhood streets of Dorchester and just ride."
He spent over two weeks in Ireland and enjoyed mostly sunny weather, except for one rainy day, which dampened one of his road races. But he fared well, despite getting wet.
"He's one of our fastest cyclists in the state, an excellent athlete," said Jim Jellison of Salem, Andrew's cycling coach.
Jellison has been coaching Andrews since the two were selected to participate in the World Games in Ireland. Andrews was selected because he won a gold medal in last August's Special Olympics cycyling tournament at UMass-Amherst.
"When you send over the fastest, Paul being that, I knew he would get into some really, really tough competition," Jellison said.
Jellison, who has a brother with Down's Syndrome and has been coaching for the past 20 years in the Special Olympics, said that even though Andrews didn't bring home a medal, "He tried his hardest. That's all you can ask for as a coach. He did well. He was going up against the best in the world. I was proud of Paul."
As one of the oldest athletes in the Massachusetts delegation, Jellison said Andrews was "kind of an assistant coach to me."
He said the trip to Ireland was "absolutely wonderful. It was the warm feeling the Irish people gave you," and that Irish schoolchildren cheered the athletes on every day, and even asked for autographs.
This year's Olympiad was Andrews's first World Games competition. "I really liked it over there in Ireland and there were very nice people," he noted.
"On my days off, me, my brothers, and sister-in-laws got to go touring Ireland and saw other Team USA games, like weightlifting, bowling and sailing," Andrews, who is mentally retarded, said. "They cheered me on very well," he added of his two brothers and two sister-in-laws, who traveled to Ireland with him to watch the World Games.
Andrews began cycling when he was 15 and hasn't stopped since. He typically rides between 25 and 30 miles during a practice session. "It's quite a lot," he noted.
Andrews is also an avid speed skater. "My mother taught me how to ice skate when I was 14," he said. He worked with a coach every Saturday morning to prepare for the summer games, and his cycling coach also works with him on his speed skating during the winter season. "I like cycling and other sports," he said.
The Dorchester native, who has competed in races throughout his cycling career, said he wasn't nervous a bit for the World Games. "I was used to it," he said. "I just get psyched." He noted that he competes whenever he has the opportunity.
Andrews gave out some advice to aspiring competitors. "Make sure they have their bike shoes, helmets, and water bottles. Just keep your balance and go."
Traveling to Ireland to compete in the World Games turned out to be a winning experience for the Bay State cyclist. "It was a really good time that anyone could really enjoy there. It was happy."