This month, the Special Olympics Southern California hosted their 20th annual Pier del Sol fundraiser on the Santa Monica Pier, and Manasa Iyer, a 21-year-old Cerritos High School graduate and Special Olympics athlete, was instrumental to the planning committee.
Special Olympics Southern California enriches the lives of more than 26,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities through sports, education, and athlete health. Since 1997, the Pier del Sol fundraiser has raised over $8 million for the Special Olympics Southern California (SOSC) athletes.
Iyer is one of the athletes who has benefited from her involvement as an athlete in SOSC, and now is giving back with her time, efforts and as a truly inspirational ambassador. When Iyer was 7, her mother died of breast cancer, leaving her and her two non-verbal siblings. That year, with the support of her Dad, she began her involvement with Special Olympics. By 2009, she represented the U.S. in the Special Olympics World Games. She won three medals in snowshoeing.
When I asked her what she likes most about snowshoeing she shared with me that “I wanted to do snowshoeing because I wanted to go on the trips. I loved being in the mountains and snow. I loved just experiencing everything and having a getaway with my team to practice and compete. My favorite memory was being chosen for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. I loved meeting all the beautiful athletes from all around the world and getting to know the ones on Team USA from the other states too.”
Iyer shares that “before the (Special Olympics) World Winter Games, I was a naughty kid. I wasn’t really a good kid and I would get in trouble. But when I was invited to compete on (Team) USA, I learned how to be nice and polite. I wanted to represent USA well and get to know all the other athletes. The World Games gave me a reason to change my attitude. It changed my life for the better.”
Along the way, she has made many friends and found many mentors: friends from her team; friends from the Global Messenger Program like Tom Selbe who is going to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria next year, Everett Baxter from Santa Clarita/Tri-Valley, Alina and Lilia Ford, Santa Clarita / Tri-Valley Gymnastics Coach Blanche Grove and Jill Dolin.
“I love the SOSC staff for making everything possible. They are my Special Olympics family and I love being a part of it,” said Iyer.
In addition, Iyer admires Dustin Plunkett “for inspiring athletes like me and all around the world. He was an athlete and now he travels all over to spread the mission of Special Olympics. He worked for World Games and hosted on ESPN and now he works at the (Special Olympics) Southern California headquarters. I want to be just like him and show everyone I could do it to.”
With so much love and support deriving from SOSC, Iyer decided to give back and joined the planning committee for the Pier del Sol, a family-friendly fundraiser, presented by Westfield Inc. The event featured unlimited rides, games, music, arts and crafts, cupcakes decorating, and an outdoor brunch from over 37 of L.A.’s best restaurants and chefs, including Josiah Citrin with Melisse, Michael Cimarusti with Providence and Brooke Williamson with The Tripel.
Iyer’s role was “the Athlete Representative on the Pier del Sol Westfield Volunteer Planning Committee. My job was to tell everyone about Special Olympics and what it means to me, as well as offer my opinion on behalf of the athletes during planning.
Iyer shares that what she loved most about the event was “the beach. But I love playing the games and winning toys with all the athletes and seeing all of them smile and be happy.
“I want to thank the chefs and the committee and every person that come out and supported the athletes like me. They making a difference in our lives.”
In addition to her efforts, a special shout out also goes to: Westfield, a partner of Pier Del Sol since the event’s inception 20 years ago. Westfield and their employees have been involved with the fundraiser through day-of volunteerism, employees serving on the event’s planning committee and cash donations to Special Olympics; The 2016 Honorary Josiah Citrin, of Mélisse and Charcoal Venice. This will be the 17th year that Citrin has supported Pier del Sol; and honorary chairs Maria Shriver and Bobby Shriver.
Finally, I asked Iyer what she would like to share with our audience of global readers and she told me “Go to events that help raise money. Be a fan in the stands. Just come and support. Go to the website and volunteer. Volunteer because it can make a big difference in your life. My dream is to show the world that people with intellectual disabilities can do anything they want. I want to tell people of all abilities, if you have a talent, share it with other people. I sang the national anthem at my soccer tournament. Just don’t be afraid to be who you want to be. Don’t worry about failing.”
Thank you Manasa for inspiring us all!