Kingsburg is a community that values tradition, service, and hard work. Rafer Lewis Johnson has always exemplified those values. He is an Olympic gold medalist, a hero and a true Viking!
Although Johnson resides in Southern California, he still plays an important role in our community. Every year Johnson returns to Rafer Johnson Junior High School graduation to present the certificates to the eighth grade class. He also makes an appearance at the annual Rafer Johnson Track Meet held at KHS.
Along with being an Olympic champion, Johnson is also known for many other accomplishments in his life. In 1968, Johnson worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential election campaign. Johnson and Rosey Grier were the two men who struggled Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, to the ground. After the attack, the gun ended up in Johnson’s pocket until it was returned to the police.
After RFK's assassination, Johnson tried to continue RFK's legacy. Johnson became very involved in the Special Olympics with RFK's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Johnson's strong character began at a young age. He was born on Aug. 18th, 1935 in Hillsboro, Texas. At the age of five, his family moved to Kingsburg. “I believe it was the best choice my parents made at the time.” Johnson continued, “I can't think of a better place to be raised.”
In high school, Johnson was a very active student. He was involved in student council and sports. Johnson was the president of the school and participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field.
Throughout Johnson's freshman and sophomore years at KHS, he participated in the 100 and 200 meter hurdles, shot put, and discuss. Johnson was inspired to try the decathlon by Meril Dodson. Dodson took Johnson to the Olympic trials in Tulare to watch the decathlon competition. Dodson was the social studies teacher and the track coach at KHS while Johnson was in high school. Johnson voiced, “He was my hero.” Dodson once gave Johnson the advice, “A decathlon is ten events. Some are really quick and some are really long and some need to be looked at it for what it is. Train for it to become the best you can be.”
As a freshman at UCLA, Johnson took part in his first decathlon race. By his fourth competition, he broke the world record. At UCLA, Johnson was very active in both school and sports. He was in the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, a class president, played basketball, and competed in track and field. “I always seemed to find time to do all those things and be as successful as possible.” Johnson continued, “When you see what you're achieving it is worth while.”
In 1956, Johnson competed in his first Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Although he was injured and was unable to compete in the long jump, he still managed to place second in the decathlon. Placing second gave Johnson more desire to go back to the Olympics to win the gold.
Four years later, Johnson returned to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. His biggest competition would be Yang Chaun-Kwang from Taiwan. Both Chaun-Kwang and Johnson studied at UCLA and were coached by Elvin C. Drake. In the end, Johnson came in first and Chaun-Kwang came in second.
Today Johnson spends a lot of free time with his family. Johnson has two children, Josh and Jenny. Both Josh and Jenny have two children of their own. “I love the fact that I'm in the position to be with family,” voiced Johnson.
Today Johnson is known all around the world for his athleticism and heroism and KHS Vikings are proud to look up to him as a perfect model of Viking Valor.
By Remy Hamada