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Placer sheriff's fun run to honor former deputy who championed Special Olympics

Karen Johnson approaches the finish line of the California International Marathon. Johnson, a Placer County sheriff's deputy and elite runner, died in January 2003 when she was struck by a vehicle while running in Orangevale. She will be remembered during a Mary 12, 2018, Fun Run in Auburn sponsored by the Placer County Sheriff's Office to raise funds for Northern California Special Olympics athletes.
Karen Johnson approaches the finish line of the California International Marathon. Johnson, a Placer County sheriff's deputy and elite runner, died in January 2003 when she was struck by a vehicle while running in Orangevale. She will be remembered during a Mary 12, 2018, Fun Run in Auburn sponsored by the Placer County Sheriff's Office to raise funds for Northern California Special Olympics athletes. Photo courtesy Kalin Everett

A 5K run to raise funds for Northern California Special Olympics athletes will also pay tribute to the life and contributions of a former Placer County Sheriff's deputy and elite runner.

The Placer County Sheriff's Office will present its inaugural North Auburn Community 5K Fun Run on May 12. Residents throughout the area are invited to join in the family-friendly event launched in memory of Deputy Karen Johnson, who died in 2003, at age 47, when she was struck by a vehicle while running on Greenback Lane near Hazel Avenue in Orangevale.

Johnson, along with then California Highway Patrol Officer Andy Mayo, is credited with bringing the Special Olympics Torch Relay to Placer County.

Johnson was a teacher before going into law enforcement. She earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and taught PE at elementary and middle schools in the San Juan Unified School District, recalled her daughter, Kalin Everett.

Johnson had always participated in various athletic activities, but she became a dedicated runner when she decided to pursue a law enforcement career.

"She was in her 40s and she was so excited because she could beat all these 18-year-old boys in long-distance running. She couldn't beat them in the sprint," Everett said.

Johnson competed in the International Police and Fire Games and California Police Summer Games, as well numerous marathons and triathlons.

But her heart was in helping youth, Everett said.

Johnson joined the Placer County Sheriff's Department in 1993 and in a few years she had worked her way from a jail deputy to the patrol division to a bailiff in the courts. But she found her niche as a school resource officer assigned to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education — DARE — program. The program teaches students how to gain self-esteem by asserting themselves and resisting drugs.

Special Olympics was part of her effort to encourage and inspire youth.

A former Special Olympics participant who spoke at Johnson's funeral told how he was competing in a running event when Johnson came up to offer encouragement and ran alongside him, Everett recalled.

Everett, who was 20 when her mother died, is now a mother herself and a deputy district attorney with the Placer County District Attorney's Office. She plans to participate in the May 12 Fun Run along with Placer County Special Olympics athletes.

As a runner, Everett said, she's not in her mother's league.

"But I do enjoy running, and it makes me feel close to her," Everett said.

The Fun Run/Walk will start at 8:30 a.m. at the Auburn Justice Center, 2929 Richardson Drive in North Auburn. Participants can register online or on site beginning at 7 a.m. the day of the event. The suggested donation to participate is $35 for adults and $20 for children.

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