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An Interview with Olympic Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyer Kersee

By Rebecca Feldhaus/Seth Helton

Murray, KY – Three-time Olympic gold medal winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee spoke at Murray State University's Lovett Auditorium Thursday. She laughed along with her audience as she recounted her experiences in athletics and explained the drive behind her philanthropy.

Joyner Kersee's presentation began with a video titled "A Dream in Motion: The Philanthropy of Jackie Joyner-Kersee." The video gave a brief overview of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation's work in East St. Louis, the foundation's mission and history.

Joyner-Kersee began running at age nine. She says that she never expected to see herself in the history books. Still, she was very dedicated even at nine; setting up a makeshift practice area with sand carried from different parts of town via potato chip bags. "When I was 14, I remember watching the 1976 Olympic games. Thats when I set my sights on trying to make an Olympic team," she said.

In high school, Joyner-Kersee dreamed of a future playing basketball for UCLA. Despite doing well in school, she was unsure if she would get accepted because college scouts did not visit East St. Louis often. That changed when her high school became state champions in basketball; bringing her to the attention of UCLA.

She attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship and ran on the track and field team additionally. Her freshman year was a rough start, she said. After suffering a few mishaps in track and field, the disheartened athlete called her high school track coach for advice, and was surprised when he told her something unexpected:

" You went there for an education first' he told me," she said.

His advice inspired her to push through. The hard work paid off when Joyner-Kersee qualified for the 1984 Summer Olympics. A hamstring injury just before the games almost caused her to sit them out. Still, she managed to bring home the silver medal in the heptathlon (a series of seven events including throwing, running, and jumping competition).

Her performance in 1984 laid a strong foundation for Joyner-Kersee to push herself to be the best. She felt that her leg injury was no excuse; that she lost the gold because she was not all she could be. "I worked on improving all seven events. You have to have a dream, be persistent and know and work on your weaknesses so you can be one of the best," Joyner-Kersee said.

That hard work earned her two gold medals in the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics.

Joyner-Kersee opened the floor for questions after speaking about her historic athletic career. Towards the end of the question and answer session, a man in the audience stood up to thank Jackie Joyner-Kersee for the care and love she shows her fans. He said that he would never forget how she had interacted with her fans after she tied the world record in 1987, taking time to talk and take pictures with all of them. The memory of Joyner-Kersee's compassion had stayed in his mind since he met her almost 20 years ago.

The man's story echoes a point Joyner-Kersee made earlier, that: "Giving back is not always financial. You need to give your time too."