Dustin Plunkett is no stranger to the ESPN cameras – but on Wednesday he was among those celebrated as Special Olympics took center stage at the 25th annual ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.
Plunkett, a Special Olympics Southern California athlete and headquarters staff member, was among 25 Special Olympics athletes from around the country who received an honorary ESPY. His accomplishments away from competition include joining the ESPN broadcasts of the 2015 and 2017 Special Olympics World Games.
Plunkett manages Special Olympics Southern California’s Athlete Leadership Program, which helps athletes transition from competitors to public speaking and leadership roles such as coaches, officials and committee members.
How it all began
Those opportunities stem from the vision of the woman who took a bond with her sister, Rosemary, and founded a movement for individuals with intellectual disabilities that quickly outgrew the backyard it all started in.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was posthumously honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award – among the highest honors presented at the ESPYs. The award, given annually to individuals whose contributions transcend sports, was accepted by her son, Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver.
On hand to present the award was former First Lady Michelle Obama. Among Shriver’s goals was to use sports to “break barriers, and change hearts and minds,” Obama told the crowd.
“She knew that when we give others the chance to fulfill their greatest potential, we all win,” Obama added. “Through her passionate service, she made our world more welcoming, inclusive and fair – not just for athletes she empowered, but for us all.”
The work never stops
Special Olympics Southern California continues to grow, as more communities and organizations help support more athletes.
Among the latest developments, the Los Angeles Rams hosted the first of six flag football camps for Special Olympics athletes on July 8. The Rams provided six stations – passing, catching, kicking, punting, line rushing and backpedaling – for the 100 Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley athletes in attendance at Edward Vincent Jr. Park in Inglewood. The event concluded with a Punt, Pass and Kick competition.
Mike Riggs of Lakewood enjoyed being able to test how far he could throw and punt.
“I get to re-live my dreams out here on this gorgeous field,” he added.
Along with support staff from the Rams, volunteers included employees from Albertson’s, Vons and Pavilions, and Honda. Six players from the Hamilton High School football team helped run the drills.
Tony Ryan, the first-year head coach at Hamilton High School, said the opportunity allowed his players to “see another side of life.”
“It’s humbling,” he said. “It humanizes the [Special Olympics athletes]. They’re just the same as we are and we’ve got to embrace them into our society.”
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.