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PLNU to host Special Olympic World Games this summer

Erik Weber, a 2009 PLNU alumnus, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international development studies and was back on campus Jan. 14 to help announce the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world this summer.

Weber, who has autism, is thrilled to compete again on the PLNU track both in April for the San Diego County Special Olympics Regional Track and Field Meet (which PLNU has hosted 22 years) and in the summer. He will run the 10,000 meter race and the 4×400 relay with his teammate Carl Pobursky.

“It means so much because it’s one of the tracks that I have been growing up [on],” Weber said. “One of my first track and field competitions for Special Olympics was right here in 1999…[I’m] looking forward to showing everybody in attendance – the volunteers, family members – the great love that Special Olympics is about.”

The City of San Diego was named a host town for the Special Olympic World Summer Games at an on-campus news conference atop the Athletic Training Center.

“San Diego is proud to be a host town for these games,” said Conrad Ware, a representative on behalf of San Diego City Council and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf who declared July 21 through 24 San Diego Host Town Day, at the event.

PLNU will host a delegation of 100 athletes from the games for three days before the opening ceremony in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. While PLNU’s delegation has not been chosen, the Special Olympics World Games will place its 7,000 athletes from 177 other countries at 100 locations across Southern California July 21 through July 24.

PLNU education professor Jim Johnson and Michael Perry, founder and former CEO of San Diego Trust Bank, will work with students on the leadership team to prepare accommodations for the athletes.

Jeff Carr, chief operating officer for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, announced PLNU as the host town and has a personal connection to the Church of the Nazarene through his over 20 year work with the Bresee Foundation and urban ministries for inner city youth, some of whom later attended PLNU.

A couple years ago, Carr was introduced to Johnson. So, when the opportunity came up to house athletes in Southern California, Carr called Johnson.

“I said Point Loma would be a fantastic venue for that and it would be great if the university would get behind it,” Carr said. “To me, it’s really in line with the mission and values that I think the university stands for about acceptance and inclusion, about standing with those who are living on the margins in our world. ”

Johnson teaches the Foundations of Special Education course at PLNU, but also helped to write PLNU’s Special Education credential program in 1991 and develop California’s current education laws from 1975-1980.

Johnson said the best part of this work that he’s continued for over 40 years is seeing the difference made in the lives of the volunteers and the people with disabilities.

“To see people at Point Loma not just on the point, but across San Diego, across California, maybe even across the United States, as a leading university that really can make a difference in the lives of people by what our students do and the one-on-one, that’s the secret,” Johnson said.

Carr, Johnson, Ware and Weber joined Joe Watkins, vice president of external relations for PLNU, for the announcement.

“This landmark annual event is anticipated and celebrated by the university campus and the entire San Diego community at large,” Watkins said. “It demonstrates the positive influence of the values and service mission at PLNU in the lives of all who participate and attend.”

PLNU sophomore volleyball Stephanie Aviles helped present the host flag at the end of the event.

Dawn O’Leary, the Special Olympics director of host towns, said hosting athletes raises awareness about Special Olympics and gets communities involved in special education.

“The athletes that participate in our program are five more times as likely to hold jobs and live independently and you want people to be able to integrate into society and their community,” O’Leary said.

The games start July 25 and continue through Aug. 2. There will be 32 Olympic-type sports at this summer’s games, but the Special Olympics hosts more than 81,000 games and competitions a year. ESPN will bring coverage and 500,000 viewers into the games this summer.

“As we all know, the purpose of our ministry is not to give comfort, it is to give courage,” Weber said to finish the conference. ” [L]et us win when we cannot lose, but if we cannot win, let us be brave in the attempt. Now let’s charge forward!”