More than 600 special needs students took a break from the classroom Friday and participated in the 40th annual Rafer Johnson track meet.
Teachers say it's a day for students to put their disability behind them and experience life as an athlete.
Rafer Johnson says he started the track meet in 1973 to give kids with disabilities a new outlook on life.
Forty years later, he says the event is bigger than ever and changing lives.
Between the 50 yard dash, the long jump and the javelin, students found time to dance and let loose.
Hundreds of special needs students from 21 schools in the Bakersfield City School District, put their pencils down and put their running shoes on.
"I think they get a real feel for what it takes to be better, to be good and to be the best that they can be," said Johnson.
Johnson took home a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 olympic games.
Since then, he's been an advocate for children with special needs.
"It's always been big in my heart and I think big in the hearts of those who wanted this program to succeed," Johnson continued.
"It's not only a time for them to have fun and exercise, but also becomes a good time for them to start using some of the social skills we've been helping them learn and develop," said Gary Hayden with the Rafer Johnson Children's Center.
Organizers say they wanted to give students an olympic feeling during the track meet, specially designed for them and includes several events from the decathlon.
"It gives our kids an opportunity to participate in a track meet where in a normal school setting they wouldn't be able to," said Christina Vasquez. "This is really a big deal for these kids."
Vasquez says her 8-year-old son is autistic, but thanks to the track meet, she says she was able to see her son Christopher in a different light.
"I'm watching from a distance because I'm taking pictures and it just melts my heart to see him so happy," Vasquez said. "It's just a great feeling, it's incredible."
"If a youngster is smiling and happy, then I'm fine," Johnson said.
Johnson says for the past 40 years, he has never missed his event in Bakersfield and says he intends to keep it that way.