Many athletes can attest to the difference sports made in their life, but for former Special Olympics World Games athlete Dustin Plunkett, sports saved his life.
Plunkett, 33, was born with an intellectual disability and cleft palate that affected his speech. Growing up, he was ridiculed for his disabilities.
"It was really tough on top of getting bullied every single day of my life. I was called retard, slow, stupid, dumb," Plunkett told NBC4 on Friday.
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But Plunkett now is a far cry from the boy who was bullied by his peers. He's a former athlete at the Special Olympics World Games, member of the Special Olympics of Southern California's board of directors and now an ESPN analyst for the Special Olympics.
As a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics, Plunkett has traveled the world as a public speaker and has stood by Yao Ming at the World Games as well as President Barack Obama at the White House.
"I’m around people that are just like me, I'm around people that were bullied and ridiculed every day of their life growing up," Plunkett told NBC4 in December. "This is our safe place."
Plunkett credits the Special Olympics for not only changing his life, but saving it. When he was going through a pregame medical screening in 2004, a dentist noticed the poor condition of his teeth, and he was later diagnosed with gum cancer.
"If it had gone one more month long, I wouldn't be alive today," Plunkett said last year.
Plunkett has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1996 and has coached athletes in basic sports skills and as the assistant basketball coach for Southern California's Lakewood Special Olympics program, according to the organization.
"I was told I was going to be worth nothing in my life," Plunkett said. "And now look at me."