Kamalani Dung thought she had her 2020 plans figured out.
After exhausting her athletic eligibility, she had transitioned into a volunteer assistant coaching role at the University of California Berkeley while finishing her degree. After that, she would consider real-world business ventures, and opportunities to play softball professionally.
The coronavirus pandemic threw all of that “right in the trash can,” Dung recently recalled with a chuckle. But she has not minded maneuvering through the uncertainty.
Society coming to a standstill has allowed her to spend more time with her family back home in Hawaii than she’s had in five years. She taught softball to the young Island girls. Now, she is further proving where the sport — and perseverance — can lead one of their own while playing in Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural season that began last week in Chicago.
“They don’t even know their potential,” Dung said. “They don’t know how far softball and athletics can take them in life and around the world. I just really want to open their eyes and (show them), if they work hard and they put in the amount of effort, that life is gonna reward them and they’re gonna get so many benefits.”
Dung has been open about the adversity she has overcome throughout her life. While growing up in Waianae on the island of Oahu, her family struggled with poverty and homelessness. But Dung assures “life was good, honestly” and that her parents, Honey Rodriguez and Lance Dung, and brother, Lancen, remain her biggest inspiration and support system.
“I want to spread awareness that the road to success isn’t always gonna be Hawaiian rainbows and sunshine,” Dung said. “Sometimes the odds in life, and a bunch of people, will always be against you. … I want people going through the same situation to know that you don’t have to have all the odds in your favor in order to make it.
“You just have to work maybe twice or three times as hard, but it’s still very possible.”
As a kid Dung affectionately became known as the “YouTube Pitcher,” because she learned the skill through online videos instead of formal training. Though her “mechanics were terrible,” she says today, softball brought her to the mainland. She was the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year during her sophomore season at Fresno State in 2017, then transferred to Cal.
Some asked Dung if she would be able to hang athletically with Pac-12 players, and academically with students studying at one of the country’s top public universities. In her first appearance for the Golden Bears, she pitched a perfect game in a tournament held in her home state. As a senior, she earned All-Pac-12 honors after posting a 2.32 ERA. This past year, she gained important perspective while coaching — and graduated with her sociology degree.
“If you believe in yourself, you will succeed, no matter what you decide to do,” Dung said. “If you set your intention and you strive 100 percent for what you want to do, anything is possible. I am very much living proof of that.”
If you set your intention and you strive 100 percent for what you want to do, anything is possible.Kamalani Dung,Athletes Unlimited, Pitcher
Dung is “honored” that her first professional softball experience will be with Athletes Unlimited, calling it a “groundbreaking new venture” that could become a model for other sports and leagues.
She will share the field with friends and idols, joking she might ask legend Cat Osterman to sign her forehead. Dung anticipates the level of competition will be similar to what she has experienced playing internationally for Puerto Rico. She is encouraged by how the television exposure on ESPN and CBS Sports will help grow the game.
“There’s some of the best athletes to ever play softball in this league,” Dung said. “I think it’s gonna be huge for the game. I think that their marketing is great. I think the people who are in charge are doing an amazing job of making sure the women and the players voice how this league should go.
“I really just hope that I get that experience that a lot of the men’s professional teams have, and I feel like that’s where we’re headed.”
Still, Dung is grateful for the 2020 curveball that gave her extended time back home.
She took Island drives with her family. They cooked together and tossed around business ideas. She taught herself how to edit videos on — surprise! — YouTube, noting “maybe that’s my next thing coming up” while pursuing marketing or financial-investing opportunities.
But giving back to the Island girls has been particularly rewarding. She wants to show them where softball and perseverance can lead one of their own.
“At this point, I feel like we’ve already won — all of us,” Dung said of herself and her family. “Just being where I am today, all my wins and losses from here on out are kind of just a bonus round.
“It’s just me wanting to go and share my story, grow the game and inspire others to do the same.”
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© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Sarah Smith
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