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Rafer Johnson Honored
By Sentinel News Service
Published September 3, 2009

Rafer Johnson Honored

CNS–Sports icon Rafer Johnson was honored Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for co-founding the Special Olympics Southern California program, now in its 40th year.

Supervisor Don Knabe praised Johnson for his foresight, saying “the Special Olympics has changed the lives of 13,000 people with intellectual disabilities here in Southern California and nearly 3 million people worldwide.”

Johnson, a 1959 graduate of UCLA, was the U.S. team captain and flag bearer at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won the gold medal in the decathlon.

At the 1984 Summer Olympics, he carried the Olympic torch on its final leg and lit the flame during the opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“He’s just a great human being, a great American and a great asset to the United States of America,” Knabe said of Johnson, a member of the National Track and Field and U.S. Olympic Halls of Fame.

Johnson thanked the supervisors for the honor, but offered his own praise for “other people who do so much work, who are involved in continuing the Special Olympics year-round … men and women who really make a difference in terms of the lives of our special athletes.”

He asked staffers and volunteers in the room to stand in recognition.

Rafer also told a story about the late Eunice Shriver, a champion of the disabled who founded the Special Olympics, saying, “I don’t think I could be here … without mentioning her.” Shriver died Aug. 11 at age 88.

He recalled that some years back, when Shriver was under the weather, he led a group of Special Olympians in filling a page with the words “I love you” over and over again and sending it to her as a get-well wish.

Shriver wrote back to the Olympians, “I love you even more.”

“I think that’s what we feel about our Special Olympians,” Johnson said. “We know that the Special Olympians love the work that we do, but we love them even more.”

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