Gooden School Hosts Special Olympics Athlete

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Photo courtesy Kelsi Lo

First published in the Jan. 27 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.

Students, faculty and staff of the Gooden School had the unique opportunity last Friday to hear from Dustin Plunkett, a Special Olympics Southern California athlete and ambassador for the international sports and humanitarian organization.
Plunkett, who served on the board of directors for the Special Olympics World Games held in Los Angeles in 2015, shared his story of how the organization, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, saved his life, and did so twice. First, by giving him a new family when his parents appeared to be in denial about his intellectual struggles, and a second time when a potentially fatal gum cancer was discovered during a Special Olympics “Heathy Athletes” screening.
The Gooden School, a K-8 school located in Sierra Madre, welcomed Plunkett to campus as part of its diversity and equity efforts, an initiative important for Jo-Anne Woolner, the Gooden School’s head of school.
“Dustin’s life story was educational and inspiring,” Woolner said. “It’s important for our community to hear from someone who has experienced bullying that words and actions have tremendous impact, but conversely, practicing acts of kindness can turn another person’s life around.”
Plunkett, who lived with a cleft palate until the fifth grade, when a speech therapist helped arrange for surgery, shared that classmates had called him a “retard,” made fun of his stutter and bullied him. “I had nobody to talk to,” he told the assembly. “There were nights I would cry myself to sleep. It got so bad at school that I would have to fight.”
Plunkett, who works ad hoc for ESPN as a World Games studio analyst and reporter and at Special Olympics Southern California, asked students to close their eyes and raise their hand if they had been bullied in their life, and then if they had bullied someone themselves.
“I would have raised my hand both times,” Plunkett said. He then challenged the students to be inclusive in life, including simple acts as joining a classmate who was sitting alone at lunch.
“I didn’t feel that I could tell people about what I was going through,” he said. “Special Olympics helped me find my voice and realize I was capable of standing up for people in the same situation as I was.”

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