Jackie Joyner-Kersee

by Jamie from San Diego

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it”(John Wooden). Jackie-Joyner Kersee's athletic career spanned two decades while the good-natured character she developed as a young person will stay with her forever. Born in a poor, poverty-stricken neighborhood of East St. Louis, Illinois she was the first American woman to ever win a gold medal in the long jump and to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon. In 1988, she established the Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation to provide educational and recreational programs in her hometown of East St. Louis. This was significant in the rebirth of that community and continues to serve these neighborhoods today. Joyner-Kersee’s actions demonstrate that in addition to her determination to become an impressive athlete she was also committed to giving back to the hometown which helped shape her character. That commitment is ongoing and continues to this day. Through hard work and determination Jackie Joyner-Kersee became a great Olympic champion. More impressive is her sense of humility regarding her achievements and the selflessness she continues to display by living in her hometown and continuing to provide opportunities for children there.

Joyner-Kersee competing in the long jump (
Joyner-Kersee competing in the long jump (

Joyner-Kersee exhibited determination by refusing to quit if she didn't succeed at first. This unique characteristic was evident in her behavior early on: “At the age of nine Joyner-Kersee entered her first competitive track meet. She finished dead last. After this defeat she began training harder and was soon winning her meets. Her best event was the long jump and when she was 12 years old she jumped over 17 feet. Her parents installed a long jump pit at the end of their porch. They hauled sand in potato chip bags from a local playground to make the pit. The first competitor she beat regularly was her older brother, Al. The brother-and-sister team began to spur one another on to greater and greater achievements, and grew very close in the process”(“Joyner-Kersee, Jackie (1962-).”Encyclopedia of World Biography). When something does not turn out as planned a hero must find the will and determination to keep on going. Determination is an essential characteristic a hero must have. By training harder to attain her personal best, Joyner-Kersee began to win more meets. The long jump evolved as her best event, and she continued to practice in hope of improving. As she watched the 1976 Summer Olympics, Joyner-Kersee slowly began to realize that if she stayed determined she might be able to compete with the best in the world: “At first Jackie lost every race, but soon she was winning. In 1976 she watched the Summer Olympics on television, and later recalled in the Chicago Tribune, ‘I saw the 1976 Olympics on TV, and decided I wanted to go. I wanted to be on TV, too.’ After that she tried harder and became a tremendously versatile athlete at a very tender age”(“Jackie Joyner-Kersee.”Newsmakers). The inspiration she drew from watching the Summer Olympics led to her wanting to become a great Olympic athlete. Inspiration can be drawn from different places and people all over the world and is vital in developing the determination required to be a champion. Every hero needs determination to fulfill the responsibilities they have as one.

Joyner-Kersee celebrating Heike Dreschler's win (
Joyner-Kersee celebrating Heike Dreschler's win (

Jackie Joyner has an impressive sense of humility in regard to her accomplishments. People were more important than performance to her. She realized there was so much more to life than athletics: “The 30-year-old Joyner-Kersee was gracious about her defeat in the long jump, because the winner was her close friend, Heike Drechsler, of Germany. Joyner-Kersee told the Los Angeles Times that she was thrilled for her rival. ‘With other athletes, even though you're fierce competitors, you get a sense of them as people, whether they're nice,' she said.'You still want to beat them, but when the competition is over, you realize that there's more to life than athletics’”(“Jackie Joyner-Kersee.” Newsmakers). Jackie respected the fact that there was more to life than just athletics and competition. She also knew that during competitions there would be people who love doing what she does, whether they win or lose. In this quote, Jackie felt that her friend beating her reinforced the understanding that one must respect the competitor and applaud them for the demanding effort they put into doing their best. Joyner-Kersee was known more for humility than for her athletic accomplishments: “She announced her retirement at age 36 on Au-gust 1, 1998, with a long jump in her hometown that was mostly ceremonial. Up until and after her final event, she remained legendary not only for her extraordinary skill, but also for her charming personality. Los Angeles Times reporter Randy Harvey wrote of Joyner-Kersee: ‘She is one of the warmest, most even-tempered persons in athletics. The next bad word that anyone who knows her, including her competitors, says about her will be the first’” (“Joyner-Kersee, Jackie (1962-).”Encyclopedia of World Biography). Because Jackie Joyner is selfless she is recognized for her humble and compassionate personality. Jackie is not known to be ill tempered and cares about her fellow competitors just as if they were family. To be respected for who one is, one must pay respect to others. Jackie Joyner has repeatedly demonstrated this characteristic so often absent in other athletes.

Joyner-Kersee giving back (
Joyner-Kersee giving back (

Joyner-Kersee also presents selflessness through her behaviors and actions. She went beyond the role of an ordinary athlete: “She functioned as a spokesperson for Nike's PLAY (Participate in the Lives of America's Youth) program, helping to raise funds for youth activity centers and providing scholarship money to youth through the Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation. She also worked with children in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois. After many years of trying to rebuild the crumbling Mary E. Brown Community Center, she announced in 1997 that the Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation would provide funds to build a new recreational facility on 37 acres in the center of East St. Louis. In addition to basketball courts, ball fields, and indoor and outdoor tracks, the center was to be equipped with computers, a library, and other educational resources”(“Joyner-Kersee, Jackie (1962-).”Encyclopedia of World Biography). Joyner-Kersee doesn’t just spend her time training for and competing in athletics. She puts the needs of others before her own by raising money for the children in East St. Louis. Joyner-Kersee was dedicated to helping people: “Joyner-Kersee continued to compete in track and field, but also turned her attention to other projects. She had long been known not only as a star athlete, but as a generous and gracious person who was committed to helping others (“Jackie Joyner-Kersee - An athlete committed to helping others.”). Joyner-Kersee obviously believes that giving her time and effort is the most important and valuable contribution she can make. By giving her time to help others, she proves she is nothing short of a hero. Being known for selflessness is far more important than being remembered for achievements and awards.

By demonstrating determination, humility, and selflessness Joyner-Kersee is much more than just an inspiring athlete. Throughout her career as an athlete and a philanthropist she has proven that humility and selflessness are as important to attaining personal fulfillment and happiness as the extraordinary determination needed to become a world champion. Joyner-Kersee is an inspiration to everyone. She cared little about whether she won and lost and more about whether she had met the standards she set for herself and her goals: “The glory of sport comes from dedication, determination and desire. Achieving success and personal glory in athletics has less to do with wins and losses than it does with learning how to prepare yourself so that at the end of the day, whether on the track or in the office, you know that there was nothing more you could have done to reach your ultimate goal”(Jackie Joyner-Kersee). If the world had more people with Joyner-Kersee’s attitude that relationships with people are more important than personal accomplishments it would be a friendlier, happier, and more fulfilling place. The characteristics of selflessness and humility so often missing in others considered to be heroes are part of her every day actions. She is a hero because she takes the time to be more than an Olympic champion. Joyner-Kersee will be remembered and respected for giving back to children and young adults all over the country. Her actions throughout her life elevate the meaning of a hero to a higher standard.

Works Cited

“Jackie Joyner-Kersee." U*X*L Biographies. Detroit: U*X*L, 2003. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 9 Dec. 2010

“Jackie Joyner-Kersee." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale, 1999. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 9 Dec. 2010.

"Jackie Joyner-Kersee." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 170-173. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

"Jackie Joyner-Kersee." Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale, 1993. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.

"Jackie Joyner-Kersee- An athlete committed to helping others." URL: Helping-Others.html

Jone Johnson Lewis. "Jackie Joyner-Kersee Quotes." About Women's History. URL: . Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

"Joyner-Kersee, Jackie 1962-." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 9: 1980-1989. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

"Joyner-Kersee, Jackie (1962-)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998.Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 12 Dec. 2010.

Page created on 6/21/2012 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/6/2017 11:25:12 PM

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