Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, A Champion for Others
By Tom Buehring
The 700 Club
CBN.com Jackie Joyner-Kersee is called the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. “That’s just a title. I know how hard I had to work. If I know that each time I go out there I give my best, and the people who believe in me and I’m very respectful and I’m very thankful for us getting to that next level. Then that’s what’s more important to me than being called ‘the world’s greatest.’”
She’s a six-time Olympic medalist! Winner of three gold, one silver and 2 bronze after competing in four straight summer games. Her 1988 heptathlon world record still stands. “To make an Olympic team is tough enough. But sometimes you’re not going to come out on top. In my first Olympic Games I walked away with a Silver Medal, but I walked away knowing that I had the ability to do better. It’s the mental toughness that I think separates the good, the best and the greatest. So for me I wanted to be the toughest athlete out there mentally.”
Tom Buehring, CBN Sports: “Where did you get your mental toughness?”
Jackie: “Probably growing up in my hometown of East St. Louis. You learn survivor skills. Then as you evolve as you grow up and some of those survivor skills that was just playing a tag game when you were 9, 10 years of age. You actually have to use those same skills to make it through life.”
Her life was never easy; beginning with two of her biggest hurdles. “Losing my mom when I was a freshman in college. She was really my best friend, my support. It was really rough. The second biggest challenge is being an asthmatic and trying to be the best athlete in the world. Not knowing if I’m going to be able to breathe because I’m allergic to the grass. Some days I looked like I shouldn’t be out on the track.”
Tom: “What drove you?”
Jackie: “I really wanted to be one of the best. I remember when I competed in my first race at the age of 9. I finished last. I felt if I came to practice every day. If I could improve a tenth of a second if I was running or a half an inch if I was jumping. That meant that the work I was doing was paying off.”
Tom: “For the gold medalists in particular, life is going to change for them. You walked this. What’s the biggest challenge on their reentry back home?”
Jackie: “You go back to the drawing board. You have to really reinvent yourself. You have to be willing to work hard. You can’t become complacent. Assess what went well for you, what went wrong, but stick with it.”
And stick with it she did! She intentionally carried this ongoing commitment into her retirement. “Never forget where I came from.”
Jackie’s track and field success brought international recognition and her choice of opportunity. It’s not only what she chose to do – but where – that adds to her growing legacy. She returned here to her hometown of East St. Louis, proving hope for youth in a community that once again has been named as America’s most dangerous city.”
“You deal with violence. You deal with drugs. You deal with people that might be going in the wrong direction. But there is a lot of love in this community. Yes there’s some negativity, but no, the negativity would not over shine or outlive the good that people are trying to do in this community.”
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee center opened in 2000. The 41-thousand square foot, 37-acre facility provides academic support and sports venues for youth and families.
Tom: “What’s most satisfying to you about working with youth?”
Jackie: “The smiles you see on their faces, the hugs that you get, the thank yous. To me, I’m just Jackie from East St.Louis. When I’m in the community I’m just in the community. But to them it’s like, ‘Wow, you accomplished this. You did that.’ But I think it was so important, if I’m going to inspire I want young people to not just see me on television, but to know I’m in that community. One of the messages that I do convey to young people is that there is no greater gift that you can give than servicing others. And if you can find it in your heart to service, and with humility, that is the greatest gift.”
Adjacent to the youth center is a metrolink that bears her name, connecting Greater St.Louis and East St.Louis. The link puts the center as the hub for help and hope. “People from all walks of life come see what we’re doing over here is to me just truly a blessing. Yes it’s a way in as well as a way out. There’s so much out there. That’s all it is. It’s a journey. You’re always just trying to open the next door.”
Tom: “Who has Jesus Christ been to you?”
Jackie: “Well Jesus Christ, God … there’s no way I could have accomplished all the things I have been blessed to do because I know it just wasn’t me. And still today, He leads my life.”
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic great and community servant, setting the pace and raising the bar for the next generation.
Tom: “What’s your encouragement to them?”
Jackie: “If you love Jesus Christ don’t be afraid to acknowledge it or to acknowledge Him. Don’t be afraid. Know that we’re all going to go through things. Be uplifting. Be encouraging. Be motivating. Let that be your light.”
Tom: “What does finishing the race well -- look like to you?”
Jackie: “I can’t see the finish line. There’s still more work to be done. And I will finish strong. But only He will tell me my time.”
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