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Rafer Johnson

Opening Ceremony Honoree Again

Devastated by the incident, Johnson recovered with the help of Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who encouraged him to become involved in a project she had started, the Special Olympics, a competition for developmentally and physically disabled children and adults. Johnson married in 1971, and kept both his silver and gold Olympic medals in a bank vault, rarely mentioning them to his children. "The house was for everybody, not just me and my things," Johnson told Independent Sunday journalist Ronald Atkin. "We put up the medals or citations the kids got but almost none of my stuff was up. We never talked much about that." Both youngsters were stunned one day in 1984 when they drove with their father to Los Angeles Coliseum, where he disappeared and then emerged to light the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies. "I felt a part of all those great Olympians on the field.… I think the torch run may be the great legacy of these Olympic Games," Sports Illustrated writer Robert Sullivan quoted him as saying. "I think it tied us together and made it all warm—a feeling of binding us all together."

In 1998 Johnson wrote an autobiography, The Best That I Can Be. He has long been active in the California Special Olympics (CSO) organization, serving on the board of directors as president and, since 1992, chair of the CSO Board of Governors. He is credited with bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to CSO coffers through his fundraising efforts. Both of Johnson's children, Jennifer and Josh, followed their father to UCLA and were standout athletes there; Josh nearly made it onto the 2000 Olympic team in javelin, and Jennifer went to Sydney as a member of the U.S. beach volleyball team. "I am a very proud father," Johnson said in the interview with Atkin for the Independent Sunday. "In terms of motivation and preparation and desire to be the best they can be, I'd put my children right up there with the best I've ever known. They give their all."

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Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldRafer Johnson Biography - Standout Athlete, Marched Into Stadium, Chronology, Opening Ceremony Honoree Again, Contact Information, Awards And Accomplishments - SELECTED WRITINGS BY JOHNSON: