Father of seven kids, passionate youth sports coach, Portland Police Captain, and ardent supporter and board member of Special Olympics Oregon; David Abrahamson’s energy and exuberance for making the world a better place is truly inspirational.
There is a long-time history between law enforcement and Special Olympics that insiders are aware of, and few others know about. It all started with torch runs, something law enforcement is involved in nationally.
“It’s an honor for us to be invited into this space,” said Abrahamson, “and a way to be involved in the community when we’re inundated from call to call, overworked and with heavy hours.” He continued, “it used to be that (as officers) we could go to community events or go to a park and shoot hoops and be (truly) integrated in the community. Unfortunately, these programs have fallen to the wayside due to demands on staff. It’s important for us to be involved in the community and this involvement with Special Olympics Oregon is a way to do that; once the officers see that connection with the athletes, we get buy in.”
His passion for working with the Special Olympics Oregon athletes means, for him, being involved with elite athletes. “The challenges they have faced,” he said “especially during Covid, there were challenges with everyone in society, and it was amazing to see how they handled the adversity of that time. Special Olympics Oregon really reflects a special outlook on life. It’s precious. I wish I could capture it and sell it in a pill form.”
With initial aspirations to teach and coach, Abrahamson came to law enforcement by way of the Police Activity League, which aims to promote positive relationships between law enforcement and youth through education and recreation. “I loved the opportunity to build rapport and engagement and connect with youth,” he said. That led to today’s myriad of programs he has a hand in, from Special Olympics Oregon’s annual Polar Plunge events to Plane Pull, coming up this September. “I wish I was younger – we’d compete better in Plane Pull,” he laughed. “The events are fun and provide exposure for the athletes. For me, it’s about engagement, having those personal connections and conversations,” he said.
He stays in close touch with the Special Olympics Oregon athletes he meets through the years, some relationships spanning five to six years. “I’m actually seeing one of my athlete friends tonight,” he said, “we like to play basketball. He recently challenged me to a 1:1 and cleaned my clock. I lost 21-11.” Abrahamson feels that once people get more deeply involved in Special Olympics Oregon, stigmas are put into check. “A lot of these SOOR athletes can beat high school athletes in sport,” he said.
Abrahamson has been involved with the annual Polar Plunge for 11 years and said “I’ll show up at nighttime with coffee and early in the morning with breakfast for the super plungers. My favorite part is seeing the athletes being excited to see us at the event. I enjoy the run before the plunge, getting hot and sweaty then jumping into water. That wakes you up quick, no coffee needed!”
One of his favorite events, outside of Polar Plunge, is Tip-A-Cop, a fundraiser that gives a whole new outlook to the traditional phrase “protect and serve.” Officers serve food in uniform as celebrity waiters at local restaurants, and all tips are donated to Special Olympics. “It’s fun to engage and banter with customers,” he said.
Abrahamson is on the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) council, the largest law enforcement focused charitable organization in the world. LETR supports athletes and families in each community, and there are 13 regions within Oregon represented. They meet with the Special Olympics Oregon Executive Director, Britt Oase, and her team, frequently, and are “strategic and intentional in discussions about how we can support. We are moving forward with some good things,” he said.
How does he keep all the balls in the air? With the help of his wife Debbie, a trauma therapist. “We have a full (slate) of activities every night,” he laughed, “it provides perspective.” And perspective is something that he leads with, whether it’s on the board of Special Olympics Oregon, where he anticipates in advance what questions need to be addressed in the meeting and what can wait, asking himself ‘how can I create a platform for engagement so it can be tangible?’ “Special Olympics Oregon has come such a long way since 2018,” he said, “they meet all the standards. Britt is doing a phenomenal job. She’s a strategic visionary who (understands) and implements details.” “Most of us come alive when (we) are serving.”