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As a young man, Olympic decathlete Rafer Johnson never dreamed his involvement in sports would open the door to exploring the world, befriending others, working in movies and television, and giving back through human service organizations.

The 1960 Olympic gold medalist and current member of Ambassadors’ Board of Directors experienced poverty and a serious foot injury as a child. Yet he went on to achieve greatness, gaining the recognition now associated with sports heroes like Michael Jordan, due largely to a personal philosophy to be "The Best That I Can Be." Not surprisingly that is the title of his autobiography.

In the early 1960s, Johnson first became familiar with the People to People vision of promoting world friendship and understanding through one-to-one contact between individual citizens. Through his earlier experiences overseas he had realized, "When we meet a specific person, our attitudes and our feelings in most cases will change." So as a young man he traveled throughout the United States to set up People to People chapters on college campuses.

"That first year we spoke at 400 colleges in twenty-four states. In some places it was unusual to see a black man and two white men traveling together," Johnson writes in his autobiography. "We were gaped at, and in some cases ostracized."

Johnson persevered and his hard work was rewarded when he was put in charge of People to People’s West Coast office. With that background, it was a no-brainer in 1995 when Johnson was invited to serve in an advisory capacity for the Ambassadors’ Board of Directors. "From the very beginning, I thought it was great," he said. "Seeing the impact that [international travel] made on the lives of others convinced me."

The record-setting athlete Sports Illustrated named Sportsman of the Year modestly shared his insights for People to People. "I think the key really for all of us, whatever our ages, whatever we are doing, is to be the best we can be. If we try to do that, the rest will follow. Be in the moment, take advantage of all the opportunities, and be open to new ideas."

Johnson knows that a true understanding of the world cannot happen without meeting different people and experiencing different cultures.

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