Olympic gold decathlete is inspired, encouraging
Olympic gold decathlete Rafer Johnson reminisced about his collegiate days and talked about today's competition with Cal State L.A. student-athletes. Pictured (l-r), Johnson, volleyball player Zuzana Cizova and heptathlete Tuekeha Huntley.
When two-time Olympian and 1960 gold medalist Rafer Johnson
visited Cal State L.A. in late July, it was a bit like taking a trip down
Johnson didn’t attend Cal State L.A.—although he
attended the ARCO Jesse Owens Games national youth track and field championships
on the campus more than 20 years ago. Instead, what got him thinking back to his
collegiate days at UCLA was when he met five former and current Cal State L.A.
student-athletes: decathlete and four-time All-American track and field
Desi Burt, 2009 All-American decathlete
Josh Linker, sophomore and 2010
Tuekeha Huntley, 2009 All-American soccer player
“It was great fun meeting the student-athletes. I traveled
down the same road they are traveling now,” Johnson said. “They have gotten nice
starts in their local communities and now they are among the best in their
sports of volleyball, soccer, and track and field. Those are all great sports. “
Johnson will be honored with the 2010 Joe Shapiro Award at
annual Billie Jean King & Friends Event in September. The
award recognizes individuals who display exemplary characteristics of
humanitarianism, leadership and vision. Johnson, one of the founding members of
Special Olympics Southern California, has long been a champion in athletics
and humanitarian efforts. He was elected—along with Arthur Ashe—into the
first class of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 1994 and also named
as one of the 100 Most Influential Student-Athletes of the past 100 years by the
Johnson and CSULA President James M. Rosser.
Johnson said he has enjoyed seeing the positive influences
that organizations like the Special Olympics and the Rafer Johnson Children’s
Center—a Bakersfield facility named in his honor that provides special education
for ages birth to five—can have. “Over the years, we have seen a lot of
positive changes,” Johnson said. “ The Special Olympics have given children the
opportunity to experience things in life and also to be positive influences in
their communities. It’s more than just the competition itself, it’s more about
life lessons, about giving them opportunities to travel, about just a myriad of
other positive things.
“I don’t believe somebody can be the best they can be
without some help,” he added. “…To me, that’s one of the best contributions we
can make—to help make sure each of our fellow citizens have the opportunity to
do things they like to do.”
Johnson was a versatile athlete growing up and he played
football, baseball and basketball in high school. He played collegiate
basketball for one season under the late legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, but
track and field soon took center stage.
Competing in his first decathlon as a freshman at UCLA in
1954—during his first year of competition—Johnson broke the world record. Then,
despite injuries, he earned the silver medal in the 1956 Summer Olympics in
Melbourne and captured the gold medal four years later in the 1960 Rome Olympic
Johnson was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of
the Year in 1958, and earned the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur
athlete in the United States in 1960. In 1998, Johnson was named one of ESPN’s
100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century.
“As a decathlete, it was an honor to meet someone with as
many accomplishments as Rafer Johnson,” Burt said. “He still looks young; he
looks like he could still do the decathlon.”
Fellow teammate, decathlete Linker, also noted: “I was
nervous to meet him, but when I met him, it was great. He wanted to know things
about us. It’s always nice to see someone continue to help out in the
community, especially a big name like him.”
The 13th annual
Billie Jean King & Friends
Event will be held on September 25 at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa.
For further sponsor or event information, check out the
athletics website at
www.CSULAathletics.com or call (323) 343-3080.