44th Annual Rafer Johnson Track Meet

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - He's known around the world as an outstanding athlete, and today former Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson returned to the Bakersfield school that bears his name for the 44th annual Rafer Johnson Track Meet, but there's an extra special reason he comes here each year.

Athlete, actor, activist: Rafer Johnson wears many hats, but none more important than the one that inspired him to get involved with the Special Olympics to help kids with special needs.

Laughter and cheers roared once again outside Rafer Johnson Social Emotional Academic School in central Bakersfield. Approximately 300 special needs children from across the Bakersfield City School District were running, tossing, and dancing their way to a good time during the 44th annual Rafer Johnson Track Meet. The guest of honor? Johnson, himself.

"I continue coming back because I see growth at this place, and in this community that affects all of the young people's lives in a very positive way," Johnson said.

After winning a silver medal in the decathlon in the 1956 Olympics, then gold in 1960 Olympics, Johnson helped found the California Special Olympics in 1969. Today, as he does every year, he came here to help these kindergarten through eighth grade kids from Bakersfield stay active; an effort their parents always appreciate.

"It's just very exciting to see the parents and the students here together," LaShone Williams, parent of a special needs child, said. "We're all working together as a community helping these special needs children."

And teachers love the opportunity it gives their students to exercise and learn.

"I want them to know that they're a part of this big great world and this big community here in Bakersfield, and that everyone is rooting for them," Fremont Elementary teacher Emily Hanson said.

Aside from his Olympic achievements,Jjohnson was also one of three men who took down Sirhan Sirhan, just after he shot Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968. Kennedy had just clinched the California primary hoping to secure the democratic nomination for president.


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