As the story is told, when she was born, Jackie Joyner-Kersee was named after the wife of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. “Someday this girl will be the First Lady of something,” her grandmother said.
How prescient those words were.
Joyner-Kersee would go on to win six Olympic track and field medals (three gold) and be named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated. She also was a four-year starter on the UCLA women’s basketball, averaging 9.6 points per game for her career and being named one of the 15 best players in school history. A two-time NCAA champion in the heptathlon, in 2001 Joyner-Kersee was voted the Top Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years.
And to think, it all started when Jackie Joyner (her maiden name before marrying her track coach, Bob Kersee) was a young girl looking up to pioneering female athletes such as Babe Didrikson.
Joyner-Kersee participated in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials and having sat out the basketball season to focus on training, qualified for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team. Hampered by a hamstring injury during the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Joyner-Kersee took silver in the heptathlon. Her brother, Al, won the gold medal in the triple jump, which Joyner-Kersee said helped motivate her during the next four years.
At the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Joyner-Kersee turned in one of the all-time greatest performances. Not only did she win gold in the long jump, she captured gold in the heptathlon, setting a world record that stood for more than 30 years. Joyner-Kersee repeated as the heptathlon gold medalist at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, adding the first of her two bronze medals in the long jump.
And Joyner-Kersee accomplished all of this while managing asthma, a condition that she once feared would prevent her from ever becoming an athlete and once hid from her coaches.
Throughout her career and since retiring from track and field, Joyner-Kersee has remained an active member of the community. She started the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, partnered with Comcast, the Christian Activity Center and Intel to create programs that provided laptops, internet service and computer clubhouses for low-income families. And she was a founding member of Athletes for Hope.