OTL: Joe Citizen

BEATTLE -- Try walking one day in the janitor's soiled shoes. Unlock the high school at dawn, like he does. Sweep the hallways on his 60-year-old arthritic knees. Take your coffee break in an office that reeks of Clorox. Clean up after the teenagers who pour ketchup on their mashed potatoes and start a cafeteria food fight. Scour the campus for litter. Spray-paint over graffiti. Sanitize the toilets. Wipe vomit off the bathroom tiles. Do it without wearing gloves or a mask.

Now walk a whole 30 years in the janitor's soiled shoes, and ask yourself what you'd do if your ship came in, if you were suddenly filthy rich. How long before you'd quit the job? Two seconds? One second? Or would you stick around … and clean something else up?

The birth of a dream

On a clear Pacific Northwest day -- three times a month, if he's lucky -- Tyrone Curry swears he can see 3,700 miles to Nova Scotia. He has said this so many times, for so many years, that his wife no longer hears him or pays attention. But that's what happens when everyone around you has always had the view from the bottom: They miss the big picture.

He might have spent his whole life in the low-rent district, but he's always been a dreamer of the highest degree. His mother, Ostennia, was a welfare agent who ended up on welfare, and Tyrone -- the seventh of nine children, including a twin brother -- lived in so many apartments and duplexes that Tyrone "felt like a gypsy." All he ever wanted was his own house, bought and paid for, and, at an early age, he became determined to help his mom land one. In 1962, at age 11 he earned 25 cents an hour stacking pop bottles in a grocery store. At 15, he earned a dollar an hour for cutting down sticker bushes. At 18, he earned $2.50 an hour cleaning offices. But still no house.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
After lunch, cleanup belongs to Tyrone Curry and his staff.

He gave everything he earned to Ostennia, never batting an eye. She was mopping floors and doing laundry to make ends meet, and Tyrone's money helped her buy food and pay the electric bill. If he was ever going to have his own house, he realized he'd need a new approach, so he applied for financial aid to go to Seattle Community College and was given a partial track scholarship. He fantasized about becoming a lawyer or a draftsman, but he decided the more realistic approach was to be a P.E. major.

In a perfect world, he'd end up coaching track and field because the sport had always been his sanctuary. In high school, he'd been a quarter-miler, a hurdler, a triple jumper and a long jumper. He had helped Seattle's Garfield High School win consecutive metro championships. But in district meets, he'd always lag behind a sprinter from Franklin High, Terry Metcalf. This Metcalf soon would be on his way to college and eventually the NFL, a future star for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1970s. And for years, Curry would go on daily eight-mile runs all over Seattle, imagining himself beating Metcalf in a race -- and reaching the Olympics.

While he was in college, he'd continue these hour-long runs, just for the peace of mind. He'd run in the rain and mud; it never mattered. He says he actually preferred the rain because his local track would be perfectly empty and he loved running on an open track.

Better for dreaming.

From the Navy to 'Ever-Ghetto'

But then his number came up -- his draft number.

Before long, Curry was in the Navy. He spent two years as a third-class boilerman on a ship in the South Pacific, dropping Seabees and other construction workers in Vietnam, then picking them up again in secrecy. He was never shot at or in harm's way. In fact, the biggest blow came when he was discharged from the military: His track scholarship was gone.

He took a job as a cook in Alaska for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but quit out of boredom, returning to Seattle. He married his high school sweetheart, found a cheap apartment and went on an all-out search for a job.

He found work as a shop teacher at Puget Sound Junior High and taught a little photography, as well. But budget cuts eliminated the job. He latched onto another position in the school's maintenance shop, but another budget cut left him unemployed again. He noticed a custodian opening at nearby Mount View Elementary School and pondered applying. He took an eight-mile run to mull it over. It was a clear day -- the first time he remembers telling himself he could see all the way to Nova Scotia. He felt a sense of calm and decided there were worse things than being a janitor. He'd do it a couple of years, then move on to something bigger and better.

That was 1977.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry cleans the cafeteria at Evergreen.

Finding his true calling

Something kept him around for good: the Evergreen High School track team.

As a district employee, Curry was allowed to apply for coaching jobs. And the one that made his eyes bulge was at Evergreen.

The school was located in the West Seattle suburb of White Center, not far from Sea-Tac Airport, and, in the early 1970s, Evergreen was known for producing one of the greatest quarterbacks in state history: the Throwin' Samoan, Jack Thompson. Curry was impressed by the school's history, but he also knew people called the place "Ever-Ghetto." The campus bordered subsidized housing, and White Center had long been known as "Rat City," purportedly because of a rampant rat problem in the area that dated to the 1940s. During World War II, servicemen had flocked to White Center because it was the only part of Seattle that wasn't a Restricted Alcohol Territory, or R.A.T. (another possible source of the Rat City moniker); area homes had been crowded and undersized ever since. To many, it had always been a slum. But Curry, a nomad his whole life, felt he could identify with Evergreen's kids. He was them; they were him. So, in 1986, he applied to be the school's track coach.

The job supplemented his $800-a-month janitor's salary; soon he was able to scrape enough cash together to make a down payment on a house. His first dream had come true. But the afternoons with his track athletes were just as fulfilling. He would spend his work days mopping up after the elementary school kids, then rush over to Evergreen's practice at 3. He'd demonstrate correct techniques for the long jump and high jump. He'd cook his team what he called "poor man's gumbo'' for energy, meaning he'd dump everything in his refrigerator into a pot and make a stew. He'd rake the school's 25-year-old cinder track and petition the district to send more cinder whenever the surface would wash away. He asked for new uniforms. But he was just a janitor coaching at Ever-Ghetto; nobody paid attention.

As the 1980s wore on, Curry's financial situation worsened. Ostennia began battling ovarian cancer, and many of his two brothers and six sisters were financially unstable. Even though he wasn't first-born or the oldest male, it was his nature to take the role of family breadwinner. He'd share his paycheck with almost all of them, particularly his sisters. That's just who he was. His wife, Gayle, was naturally conflicted over his generosity, considering they had two sons and a mortgage of their own. They'd sometimes argue over his benevolence. His solution: just get more jobs.

He became Evergreen's varsity football assistant, head cross country coach and head girls' basketball coach in various years -- all in the same school year. He began working as an usher at the Kingdome for Seahawks football games and Mariners baseball games, making an extra $8,000 a year. He became an usher at Seattle Center Coliseum (later KeyArena) for Sonics games, earning $7,000 more. The additional cash helped, and, as the years passed, his janitorial income began to increase. By 1987, the head janitorial job at Evergreen had opened up and he grabbed it, padding his custodian salary to about $30,000 a year.

From where he'd started, that seemed like a lot. But in the larger scheme of things -- with a mother, eight siblings, two sons and a wife to help support -- it was middling. He'd started playing semipro football for the Burien Flyers on weekends, but there was nothing pro about it: He wasn't getting paid. If he ever had a free moment, he'd take a long run to release his stress. But all of this left him with little time for his wife and kids. It was the selfish side of Curry. Gayle ended up divorcing him in 1998, which meant he'd lost his wife, his sons and his prize possession: his house.

Everything good in his life was gone -- all because of money.

So that's why, at least two days a week, every week, Tyrone Curry bought lottery tickets.

Rain, mud or blood

His refuge became Evergreen track practice, rain or shine.

Whatever was going on in his private life, the kids on the team had no clue. There wasn't a more serene or encouraging coach than Curry, and the boy and girl athletes at school flocked to him. He'd stage team car washes to raise money for the program, and he'd be the one soaping up the windshields. Before weekend invitational meets, he'd buy kids breakfast out of his own pocket, even though his pockets were virtually empty.

What the athletes admired most about Coach Curry was his demeanor. He wasn't a yeller; he was a whisperer. There was never any tension in his voice, and, at times, his athletes would chastise him for not talking loudly enough.

Tyrone Curry
Courtesy of Tyrone Curry
Curry would always tell his track team: "We practice rain, mud or blood.''

"Then you're not listening closely enough," he'd answer.

That doesn't mean he went easy on them. For instance, he'd hear the kids complain all the time about the school's decaying track. He was sympathetic, but he'd still order them out there every day. Built in 1956, the cinder track was missing most of its cinder. Years of erosion and lack of maintenance had turned the surface into a dust bowl on dry days and a mud bowl on wet days. District workers would drive their pickups over the track, leaving skid marks and ruts.

"It was bad," said Ty Ivy, Curry's assistant coach for 17 years. "It'd look like a steeplechase out there. The kids would be jumping over water hazards, and then in warmer weather, the surface was hard and unforgiving. We'd have anywhere from seven to 11 kids every season with shin splints because of that track. And the district wouldn't do a damn thing about it."

Any other coach would have thrown a fit. But Curry kept his cool, partly to show the kids how to handle adversity. Even on the wettest, chilliest days -- when the kids would beg to stay inside and avoid a quagmire -- Curry would say, "We go out there rain, mud or blood." And then he'd lead them outside wearing a short-sleeve shirt.

That was as pushy as he ever got because, deep down, he felt protective of the kids. Evergreen's student body was divided three ways into an arts school, a tech school and a health school -- separate entities called "small learning communities" -- and Curry despised the lack of cohesiveness on campus. Evergreen had three principals, three curricula. Morale was low, and having to live in and around the projects of Rat City made life even more depressing. About 70 percent of Evergreen's student body qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, and, for many of them, that was their lone meal of the day. So before every track season, Curry would promise his athletes, "If any of you reach the state meet, I'll buy you a steak dinner at the restaurant of your choice. As much as you can eat." The kids loved it. Little did they know, Curry barely had the money to pay for the meals.

By the early 2000s, his bank account was squeezed even further because he had taken on a second family. He had met a kitchen worker named Michele while working at Mount View Elementary, and they had become friends and then, after his divorce, a couple. They ended up marrying and buying a home: a modest, blue wood-paneled house on a cul-de-sac on the fringe of Rat City.

Michele's mother moved in with them, as did Michele's two sons and Michele's younger sister. There were all these mouths to feed, and, even worse, Curry's mother was losing her battle with cancer. He continued to help pay for his mom's doctor bills, continued to fund many of his siblings. As a result, he and Michele were living paycheck to paycheck. And when it came time for the state meet each year, Curry often had to delay the steak dinner until after payday, just so he could afford it.

"Tyrone never wanted to cancel the dinner and let the kids down," Michele said. "One year, we took three boys out for steak dinner, and they're talking big stuff about steaks. Then we get to the steakhouse, and they're, 'What's a porterhouse? What's filet mignon?' They had no idea. Here they were talking like they have steaks every day of their lives, and they'd never had a steak before. It meant so much to them."

Regrettably, few of the Evergreen kids were qualifying for the state meet anyway, and much of that had to do with the horrible cinder track. The shin splints and the poor practice conditions were taking a toll on Curry's squad, not to mention the community as a whole. This was supposed to be a track that all citizens of White Center could use, a place where entire families could come for a Sunday walk or a jog. Instead, one lap around the dust bowl would leave people with permanently stained sneakers and no desire to return.

Curry was fed up. He turned to Ivy and said out loud what he'd been thinking for years:

"When I win the lottery, I'm buying this school a new track."

Lottery tickets everywhere

As dreams go, that one was a whopper. So the comment went in one of Ty Ivy's ears and out the other. But the next time a kid showed up with shin splints, Curry would say it again. The next time a kid rolled an ankle, he would say it again. He began to say it almost every other day, from the year 2001 on, and the reason Ivy never told him to shut up is that he'd seen the front passenger seat of Curry's beat-up Buick.

There were lottery tickets everywhere.

Ever since the Washington State Lottery began in 1982, Curry had been playing scratch games, daily games, Powerball games and Quinto games. He'd buy $2 tickets at least twice a week and, with a wink, he'd always tell the clerk at the convenience store, "I'll be back tomorrow for my winnings."

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
One of the convenience stores in south Seattle where Tyrone Curry bought his lottery tickets.

The most he'd ever pocket was $20 here or $1 there. But before long, he was addicted, always predicting a million-dollar payday to whoever would listen, or, at the very least, to Michele and to Ty Ivy.

"I'd never known anybody to play it as incessantly as Tyrone," Ivy said. "He'll go to, say, 7-Eleven every Tuesday. And after he goes to the 7-Eleven, he'll go to the ampm and buy the Mega Million. And then he'll go to this other store. He'll go to four different stores to get tickets, and he'll play a different game at each place."

Said Michele: "Me, I'd only buy lottery tickets when I'd go to the little store to get cigarettes. I'd say, 'Oh, give me some lottery tickets.' But it wasn't every time. He'd go every other day! I don't know how often he was playing, to be honest with you. But he'd always have stacks of tickets."

Curry was playing partly for the sport of it. But with so many people depending on him -- his own kids, Michele's kids, the track kids -- the ante was way up. For years, he used to rush to have every one of his tickets checked, his pulse racing. But after almost 30 years of rolling the dice and never having it come up sevens, the thrill seemed to be gone. Three decades of losing can wear on a man. By 2005 and 2006, he stopped checking all of his tickets. He'd store them in his car, in some ways conceding defeat. It wasn't like him.

He was in his mid-50s now, and life was beginning to play tricks on him. His mother had died, which devastated him, and even though his bank account was evaporating, he felt he had to continue trying to help his cash-strapped brothers and sisters. "Money! They wanted money," Michele said. "They wouldn't be able to pay their water bill, their light bill, their phone bill, diapers for the little ones. And they expected him to wire them the cash. Tyrone has a good heart. And if they asked, then they needed, regardless. He would never really ask questions.

"He can't say no to anybody. But I was kind of the bitch. He would say to his siblings, 'Well, let me talk it over with Michele,' and I would say no. So the family, they resented me. He'd still send it to them, though."

The most he ever did for himself was buy a 1977 Dodge Caravan in late May 2006 after he wrecked his Buick. He paid $1,200 for it at some used car lot full of weeds, hoping it wasn't a clunker. He might've bought something snazzier, but he and Michele had a secret they weren't ready to share with everyone: About a year before, they had filed for bankruptcy.

They had fallen several months behind on their mortgage payments, largely because he'd continued to siphon off cash to his siblings. "Instead of saying no, I said yes," he said. "But if people say they're in need, you try and help. My mom would always say, 'Don't turn your back on somebody.' I know we should've done first things first and paid the mortgage. But sometimes you just say, 'We'll make it up later.' I never think about money, and maybe that's one of my problems."

Filing for bankruptcy was his only solution. He didn't want to lose his house, didn't want to relive his childhood. So he accepted a two-year payment plan to revive his credit.

He had $15 in the bank.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry's school day begins at 4 a.m. and ends after track practice.


Then came June 6, 2006 -- 6/6/6. One devil of a day.

That morning, Curry got up at his usual time -- 3:30 a.m. -- so he could unlock the school at 5 for the Evergreen kitchen workers. He hopped in Michele's Mazda Navajo instead of the rickety Dodge Caravan he'd had for a week -- they'd swap cars all the time -- and went about his daily routine of cleaning up after teenagers.

About 9 a.m., Michele stopped by the Zip Market convenience store in Rat City, on the intersection of 107th and 16th Streets, to buy cigarettes. As she was paying, a lady behind the cash register asked whether she had checked her tickets.

"No. I never even know when the drawings are," Michele recalled saying.

"Didn't I see you come in here over the weekend and buy some Quinto tickets?"

"Yeah, but I don't even have the tickets with me. They're in the other car."

"Well, I need you to check your tickets. There's apparently a Quinto winner from this store, and only 10 people bought tickets. I've checked with eight of the people, so I think either you or this other person won."

"Oh, it's not me, I'm sure. Nothing like that can happen to me."

"Well, go check!"

Michele's blood pressure didn't even rise. She matter-of-factly climbed in the Caravan and drove to Evergreen High School, where her car was parked. Tyrone happened to be outside dumping trash. He noticed Michele digging through the car, then saw her motor away. He called her cellphone to say, "What, you're going to stop by and not say anything? Why were you going through the car?"

"Well," Michele answered, "the lady at the store thinks we won Quinto, and I just came to get the tickets. I'll call you back."

There was no urgency in her voice; she spoke in a monotone. Curry didn't get excited, either. Had they won, he figured it was a 20-buck payoff, max. She said she'd call him back, and he went back to his trash bags.

When Michele returned to the Zip-Mark, she handed over the ticket and said, "Here, check the stupid thing." A minute later, the store computer spit out the following message: "Winner … $3,400,000.00 -- Retailer Do Not Pay."

The woman and Michele furrowed their brows. Do Not Pay? Michele thought maybe it was a hoax, that perhaps she hadn't won a dime.

"All I'm seeing is, 'Winner -- Retailer Do Not Pay,'" Michele said. "And I'm thinking to myself, 'Why can't she pay me my money?' I'm not looking at all these numbers, per se. Do not pay? Why? I don't understand. But then I looked up at her and she looked at me, and we both said, 'Oh my God.' Because it dawned on me why she couldn't pay me. How could she have that kind of cash in the register? Someone grabbed a chair for me to sit down in. I mean, I was just standing there looking stupid."

She dialed her husband's cellphone. He was still dealing with the trash cans outside.

"You need to come home," Michele told him.

"OK. Why?"

"No, you need to come home right now. We won the Quinto."

"What? How much?"

"I don't know. It's a 3, a 4 and too many numbers for me to count. I've never seen this many zeros … 3 million-something."

And, at that precise moment, 10:05 a.m. on June 6, 2006, something indescribably guttural burst out of the quietest man at Evergreen High:

"Yeeeeeeeeaaaaah! Alllll Riiiiiiiiiighhhhht! Wooooooooooooo!"

Tyrone Curry
Courtesy of Tyrone Curry, Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry won millions, and gave part of it away.

Learning to accept a new reality

The ladies in the school office thought the school was on fire. The security guard on duty thought Curry had lost his mind. Ty Ivy thought Curry was simply doing jumping jacks.

Curry wasn't sure whom to tell, where to go. He jogged to the main office, informing the receptionist, "I've got to go somewhere. I'll be back." He was pacing. She asked him what was wrong, and he said, "Michele thinks we won the lottery."

"No way!"

"I've gotta go."

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry shows a copy of the winning lottery ticket that netted him $3.4 million.

He drove to the Zip-Mark and was greeted by Michele and a state lottery official. The officer congratulated him, confirming the $3.4 million. Tyrone and Michele were glassy-eyed.

They were directed to the state lottery office downtown, where officials talked them through the process. They would be receiving an actual check that day, after taxes, for $2.58 million, and they were urged to deposit it immediately. "A lot of people go home and lose it," the official told them. "If you lose the check, we can't replace it. Protect yourself. Go right to the bank."

They were also warned about the impending publicity, that friends and family members and even strangers would be calling to ask for money and donations. They were told not to sign autographs because forgers could be anywhere. They were told to find a financial adviser. And they were sent on their way.

They drove straight to the Bank of America branch in Rat City, where they'd had an account for years, where they knew most of the tellers by name. They stood in line. And when a teller friend called them up, Michele said, "Hi, what's up?" -- and handed over the check.

"What the f---?" the teller said.

"Careful with your language; you're at work," Michele said.

"I know, but what the f---?" the teller said. "Is this real?"

The tellers began passing the check around, eyeballing it for authenticity. A manager was paged. Phone calls were made. Eventually, the check was deposited, and the teller gave them the card of a financial adviser.

At home, Curry got on the phone with his brothers and sisters. He wanted them to know that he had won an exorbitant amount of money in the lottery and that they might hear about it on TV. He asked for his space, that he and Michele needed time to digest the news. They thought he was fibbing, so he put Michele on the line. Michele never B.S.'d. She verified it was true and hung up.

"All I could think about was, 'We are going to be debt-free,'" Michele said. "We can pay off this bankruptcy and not have to worry about anything."

But Curry was thinking about something else entirely. He didn't dare share it with Michele, either. Instead, he waited until the next day when he saw Ty Ivy at school.

"We got our track," Curry told him. "We got our track."

Tyrone Curry
Courtesy of Tyrone Curry
Curry and his wife, Michele, pose with a ceremonial copy of the check he received after winning $3.4 million in the lottery. (He won the lottery on June 6, 2006 -- not June 17, the date on the ceremonial check.)

Because I want to be here

The newspapers and local TV newscasts dubbed him, "The Millionaire Janitor." But Curry kept referring to himself as just "Joe Citizen."

His first day back at school, June 7, was dizzying. Between the publicity and the pats on the back, Curry barely had time to mop a floor. Grinning students asked him whether they could borrow a quick $100; others asked him why he hadn't quit yet, why he hadn't turned in his Clorox, why he wasn't lying on some beach with a mai tai.

"I'd be gone in two seconds," one kid said.

"No, one second," another said.

"Well, that's because you don't want to be here," Curry answered. "I do."

People kept asking him what he'd bought with his newfound riches, and the real answer was zilch. Or almost zilch. On the night of June 7, he went to his regular bowling game with his buddies. Drinks were on him. Other than that, he went home to Michele and told her he wasn't leaving his janitor job, his Mariners job or his Sonics job. He'd been working since the day he was 11; it was all he knew.

He and Michele invited a financial adviser to their home, and the man asked how they would like to spend their money. Curry zipped his lip about the track. Michele mentioned that, other than settling their debt, they had no clue. "We hadn't touched a dime of it," she says. "Because it was too much. Just the amount of money, I guess. We were, 'What do we do first? Where do we start? We can do almost anything, but what do we really want to do? If we touch it, it's just going to disappear.' So the man told us, 'Go out and buy something. Make it real. You have to get the realization of this.'"

They decided they should each splurge and buy a new car. On June 30, Michele went first. She laid out $36,000 for a Honda Ridgeline and visibly shook as she paid for it. "Cried," she recalled. "I had never written a check that large." The next evening, Tyrone walked into a dealership, asking whether they had the new Chrysler 300. They told him it sold for $36,000, and he said, "I'll buy it for 32, cash. Right now." A half-hour later, he drove the car home.

"I traded in my Dodge Caravan, too," he said. "I said, 'Here, take it.' They said, 'You know it's not worth nothing.' I said, 'And your point is …'"

In the next few months, he and Michele put new siding and windows on the house, put in a new heat pump, and built a new outdoor deck and driveway. There was no talk of relocating; Curry didn't want to leave Rat City. He'd spent his whole life moving from house to house and now wanted to stay put. Besides, from atop his new deck, he swore he had an even better view of Nova Scotia.

Over the next few years, they bought a time share in Las Vegas and took a cruise to Mexico. They gave each of their children $24,000, and, after a lengthy husband-wife debate, gave Tyrone's siblings $10,000 each. "We got them in a hotel room and sat on the bed and handed out checks to each of them," Michele recalled. "We told 'em, 'This is it; don't ask for any more.' And they were fine with that."

At Evergreen, Curry organized a semiannual contest among the three mini-schools: Whoever had the cleanest classrooms got to host an ice cream party. In other words, he fed the entire school twice a year. He hoped that it would be a pick-me-up, that the student body would come together. He also bought new uniforms and warm-up suits for the track team, after they'd spent years wearing green hand-me-downs. Morale seemed to be rising.

There was just one thing left to buy.

The waiting begins

Tyrone had to get in line.

At the same time he was winning the lottery in June 2006, another school in the Highline School District -- Mount Rainier High --- was in the process of getting its own new track. And ugly-duckling Evergreen wasn't exactly high on the district's priority list.

Curry researched the funding of Mount Rainier's track and learned that a local businessman named Ray Prentice had raised about $40,000 from area companies and had received a youth sports grant worth $75,000 from the King County parks system. The district had picked up the rest of the approximately $135,000 tab, and voila, Mount Rainier had its pristine track.

After speaking to Prentice, Curry decided to go the same route. The only difference was he didn't have to do any fundraising -- he simply offered to write a $40,000 check on the spot.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry promised his assistant, Ty Ivy, that if he won the lottery, he'd build Evergreen a track. The day it came to fruition, they walked the track together.

The district told him it would have to get back to him, and privately he was prepared to pay the entire $135,000, if necessary. He proceeded to apply for a King County youth sports grant -- usually saved for lower-income areas -- on the grounds that the Rat City community as a whole would benefit from a track. The subsidized housing near the school, Park Lake Homes, was being torn down and replaced, and Curry thought the track would complement the redesign. But, the whole time, he said nothing to Michele.

There was so much bureaucracy to wade through, he wanted to wait to tell her. Part of his hesitancy was that he knew she would fly off the handle. But he also thought that, if she met the kids he coached, she'd support him.

In Curry's quarter-century at Evergreen, he had seen the school's demographics radically change. Students had arrived from Vietnam, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and the Pacific Islands. One school official estimated that 80 languages or dialects were being spoken on campus. Curry wanted this track for all of them, but particularly for a young shot-putter and javelin thrower, DeVante Botello.

DeVante had shown up in 2007 as a curly-haired freshman dying to be coached. At the time, Ty Ivy had been in charge of the throwers, and every time Ivy gave the kid a tip, DeVante would respond, "OK, Coach! You bet, Coach!" DeVante proceeded to set freshman and sophomore school records in the javelin even though he was forced to train on the muddiest track and field in town. Curry felt so badly that he began shifting practice to Highline's district stadium. Anything for DeVante.

Finally, in DeVante's junior season of 2009-10, he reached the state meet, meaning he had earned one of those complimentary steak dinners -- which Curry could easily afford now. Michele came along that night and heard DeVante's story. The kid was being raised by his mother, grandmother and stepfather in a modest Rat City bungalow. He slept in a pink bedroom he shared with his little sister, Angelina. But he was also a 4.0 student who surely would end up at a Division I college on a scholarship someday.

Michele ended up adoring the kid, and Tyrone finally broke the news to her about the track. She was initially angry that he had brainstormed the whole thing behind her back. But they still had more than $1 million in the bank, and she could tell this was his latest dream.

She asked where things stood and was told the track was completely in the district's hands. King County had already approved the $75,000 grant, but the district hadn't pitched in any money yet, because it was thinking about actually tearing down the school. There'd been a debate within the district whether to demolish Evergreen and re-build it -- or leave it as is. If they were going to start from scratch, it made little sense to construct Tyrone's track first. So everything had been put on hold.

Eventually, because of the sour economy, the district knew it couldn't afford to re-build the school and instead authorized a payment of approximately $70,000 for a new Evergreen track, a track that, in total, would cost more than $180,000.

In early 2011, a construction crew showed up to start digging. Tyrone Curry watched the first shovel go into ground … and wept.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
In his cramped custodian's quarters at Evergreen, Curry displays a certificate he received after donating some of his lottery winnings to build a new track.

A triumph shadowed by tragedy

The target date for completion was May or early June of 2011. Curry was counting the days … until he found out about DeVante.

On the night of April 17, DeVante heard a crash come from his mother's bathroom. He rushed in and found her unconscious from an apparent heart attack. He and his grandmother performed CPR, dialed 911 and climbed into the ambulance with her. Antoinette was dead on arrival, at the age of 38.

The news stung Curry. It took him back to his own mother's death and made him ache for DeVante. When DeVante, now a senior, returned to his first practice a few days later, Curry grabbed ahold of his arm and walked him down the dirt track. "All I can remember is Tyrone talking to me in that quiet voice that he has, and he threw out there that he would help me pay for college," DeVante says. "He's like, 'I know your grades are fine and you're a great academic and you're not going to learn much in the last quarter, but keep coming to school.' He said, 'I know it's not going to be easy the next couple of weeks, but keep coming to school; you've just got to keep it together.' That just stayed with me. It helped me show up every morning."

DeVante missed the league championship track meet because it was on the day of his mother's funeral. But he starred in the district meet, qualifying for the state meet. That meant another steak dinner. Another night with Curry.

They had a talk that night in Curry's Chrysler 300, and DeVante told him about his plans. He had scholarship offers from Washington State and Central Washington, but he saw how Curry had stayed put at Evergreen, even with millions in the bank, saw how he put others first. "He's rubbed off on me," DeVante said. So DeVante decided to pass on the scholarships and stay home to take care of his sister and grandmother. He told Curry that he would attend Highline Community College until his family was OK. And that he didn't want Curry to pay a cent of it.

"I could never ask Coach Curry for money," DeVante said. "I couldn't do it. Like, it's not my right. I mean, he earned the money he has. Yeah, luck of the draw, he won the lottery, but he earned that. He works three or four jobs. He gets up at 4 a.m. to start his day at school, cleaning things up. He doesn't go home until late. How can you ask somebody who's worked so hard for their money? It's not fair and not honest, I feel.

"Listen, I don't know where I'd be right now if Tyrone had left Evergreen when he won the lottery. I don't know where I'd be if he was on some beach. I'd be in shambles. It'd be like the 'Twilight Zone.' Tyrone's a community hero, dude. A hero."

A selfless hero gets his

On the morning of July 6 -- a clear day -- the final white lines were painted on the rain-mud-and-blood-resistant track at Evergreen High School.

Tyrone Curry and Ty Ivy stood together staring at every inch of the track. It was rubber. The lanes were numbered. The long jump pit had real sand. Almost every day for 11 years, Curry had promised Evergreen a new track, and, almost every day, Ivy had said, "Yeah, sure." Now they were the first to see it completed, and Ivy told Curry, "I knew you'd build it if you won the lottery. But, come on, man. What were the chances of you winning?"

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry says it's the kids who make his janitorial job special. Here, he strolls the track picking up litter with Pat Thompson, center, and Fa'ana Fanene.

"One hundred percent," the dreamer said.

Curry was still buying lottery tickets twice a week, all over town. And, every morning this fall, he'd still arrive to Evergreen before dawn to sweep the hallways. But, inevitably, he'd drift outside to pick up the litter at the new "Tyrone Curry Track and Field.'' The district had officially named it after him; they'd named it after a janitor.

It got him dreaming again, at the age of 60. If a custodian could build a track, what else were the possibilities? He'd already improved morale at one school, maybe he could improve it at 10 more. He decided to run for the school board, because no one knew the ins and outs of a campus more than Curry. Educators may have their doctorates, but a janitor knows the teachers, knows the kids, knows their complaints. He wanted to eliminate the divisive "small learning communities'' and bring a pride back to every Seattle school. "Kids need to buy in,'' he said. "If they don't buy in, they'll never stay in school or in class.''

For months, Curry campaigned all over Rat City. He carried a sign at local parades and passed out brochures on street intersections. Ty Ivy, Michele and DeVante Botello were his unofficial campaign managers, and on Nov. 8, Election Day, he waited for another phone call that would change his life.

The morning of Nov. 9, while sitting in his Clorox-stenched office, the call came: He won 55 percent of the vote. Once again, Curry wept.

This time, the tears were over the goodbyes. As of Jan. 1, he will leave Evergreen after 25 years as its janitor. "It's kind of like losing a friend,'' he said. But what struck him more was the irony of it all. Now that he finally had the track, he couldn't be head coach at the track. Rules prohibit school board members from getting paid by the district -- so, once he won the election, Curry had to resign as head coach. But he quickly asked the Evergreen athletic director a very pertinent question:

Can I volunteer and coach the track team for free? The answer was yes.

"Like I've mentioned,'' Curry said, grinning, "it's never been about the money."

He's always said winning the lottery was not about being rich; he's never minded being just Joe Citizen. But, after all of his giving, his family and friends decided something should be given back to him. Some form of gratitude. Something to finally make him feel like an actual millionaire.

So, not long ago, Michele came up with the perfect solution.

She flew him to Nova Scotia.

Tyrone Curry
Rod Mar for ESPN.com
Curry won the lottery and remained true to himself.

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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