Special Olympics athlete Dustin Plunkett has competed in a number of sports since first being introduced to the games in 1996. Basketball and golf are his focus now, but for Plunkett, the competition and awards are not the only things he has gotten out of the games. The Special Olympics literally saved his life.
Like many of the athletes, Plunkett was able to take part in the Healthy Athletes program. During a seven-point check-up 10 years ago, a volunteer dentist discovered he had gum cancer and quickly helped to treat the disease.
“I never knew how fortunate and blessed that I would be when joining Special Olympics,” he said. “Everyone thinks it’s just sports, but to me, it is sports and so much more. If it had been one month longer, I wouldn’t be alive today showing off my million dollar smile.”
Today, Plunkett serves as a Global Messenger and board member for the Special Olympics World Games, which will be held in Los Angeles in 2015. And this past weekend, he and Edison International and Southern California Edison (SCE) employees joined thousands of other volunteers who helped out at the 2014 Special Olympics Summer Games Invitational in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California campus.
The athletes competed in several sports, including aquatics, track and field, basketball, bocce, golf and gymnastics. More than 1,500 athletes and 300 coaches traveled from across Southern California to take part in the Summer Games, including more than 200 athletes from 12 countries around the world. Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with intellectual disabilities gain the confidence that comes with achievement.
Rhonda Adams, an SCE employee in Local Public Affairs, was out of the house at 6:30 a.m. recently to help serve breakfast to the athletes competing in the recent Summer Games in Los Angeles
“The athletes are so inspirational and no matter the outcome, they walk away with a smile, simply because we cared enough to support their efforts and the games,” said Rhonda, who also volunteered at SCE’s festival booth, which featured electrical safety tips, such as staying away from downed power lines.
This was SCE employee Gloria Burton’s first time volunteering with the Special Olympics and she found the experience inspirational. What stood out for her were the enthusiasm, competitiveness and generosity of the athletes.
“It provided the opportunity for me to embrace and celebrate people with differences,” she said. “Each moment spent helping others is a moment that holds value and return rewards.”
In 2015, the Special Olympics World Games will return to the United States after a 16-year absence and will need 30,000 volunteers. About 7,000 athletes representing more than 170 countries are expected to participate in the nine-day event starting in July 2015 in Los Angeles.
As the Global Messenger for the 2015 World Games, Plunkett is used to encouraging people and their families to volunteer for the event. But he also wants you to know that once you get involved, you will be inspired for a lifetime.
“If you get involved, all you have to do is spend one minute of your time with our athletes and you’ll know why you’re here because in that minute, that athlete will give you their heart and they’ll remember you for a lifetime,” he said.
For more information and to volunteer for the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles, visit: www.la2015.org.