Daughter of Alfred (a railroad employee) and Mary (a nurse’s assistant), Jacqueline Joyner was born on March 3, 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her parents were only teen-agers at the time they married and struggled to provide for their four children. A noted family story tells that one of Jackie’s grandmothers said that “Someday this girl will be the first lady of something” and so, Jackie was named after first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Jackie enrolled in the new track program at the local Mary Brown Community Center, where she had been studying modern dance. Jackie Joyner set the Illinois high-school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. According to Ducksters.com “Jackie was a great all-around athlete. She used this to her advantage in the many-event sport the pentathlon.” Starting at the age of 14 she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships four years in a row, and received widespread honors in high school in various sports including track, basketball, and volleyball; and, she was an excellent student too.
Jackie and her older brother Al were training partners, and Al is quoted as saying “I remember Jackie and me crying together in a back room in that house, swearing that someday we were going to make it. Make it out. Make things different.”( http://womenshistory.about.com/od/jackiejoynerkersee/p/joyner_kersee.htm)
Jackie won a full scholarship to UCLA, but her scholarship was not for track and field – Joyner was scooped up for her prowess on the basketball court. One reporter noted that not only was she was the fastest and biggest runner on that high school track, but that she was also great on the court. Wikipedia reports that for four years Joyner was a star player for UCLA’s basketball team and took second place for the long jump in track. She scored 1,167 points during her collegiate basketball career, which places her 19th all time for the Bruins games.
According to Dictionary.com, “Tragedy struck in her freshman year when Jackie’s mother developed a rare form of meningitis and died at the age of 37. Stunned by the sudden and unexpected loss, both Jackie and Al Joyner dedicated themselves to athletics with new resolve.
Having returned to UCLA, Joyner-Kersee became a starting forward for the Bruins and worked with the track team as a long jumper. She was rather surprised to find herself singled out by an assistant track coach named Bob Kersee, who detected untapped possibilities in the young collegian. “I saw this talent walking around the campus that everyone was blind to,” he told Sports Illustrated.”No one was listening to her mild requests to do more. So I went to the athletic director and made him a proposition.”” Bob Kersee demanded to coach Jackie Joyner in multi-events, and stated that if he was not granted the position as her trainer that he would quit. Obviously, the university athletic department agreed to his plan. Kersee is quoted in Sports Illustrated, “By 1982, I could see she’d be the world record holder.” She was already a “powerhouse” in the long jump and the 200-meter sprint as well as a top scoring forward on the basketball team, so her endurance was excellent.
In 1981 at the age of 19, Jackie Joyner began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon. She was successful and won the NCAA Heptathlon in 1982 and 1983 with the support of her coach, Bob Kersee. In 1984 Joyner went on to earn the Olympic Silver Medal in the Heptathlon – a seven event competition that includes the 100 meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meter sprint, long jump, javelin throw, and the 800 meter “middle distance” run (an Olympic event since the first games in 1896). “The name derives from the Greek hepta (seven) and athlon (contest). A competitor in a heptathlon is referred to as a heptathlete” (Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heptathlon). The men’s heptathlon is held inside, but the women’s competition was introduced in the 1980s and is held outdoors.
The women’s heptathlon first appeared in the Olympics in 1984 when Joyner took the Silver Medal. In 1988 Jackie Joyner earned 7291 points (the first woman ever to accomplish 7,000 points in a Heptathlon) taking both the Olympic and World titles. In 1985 Jackie Joyner graduated from UCLA and was named Athlete of the Year.
Kersee took Joyner on a date to the Astrodome where he proposed to her. With Nolan Ryan pitching, Kersee said “I decided to try a fastball on her. “I said, ‘I would like to marry you. Would you like to marry me?'” She thought it over for a day or so, then agreed. “They married on Jan. 11, 1986, in Long Beach, where Kersee was an associate pastor” (espn.go.com). Kersee told his wife that she could not use his last name until she set a world record, so when she won the Heptathlon for the Goodwill Games, Jackie Joyner officially added Kersee to her name and title (Cecil Harris, Sportswriter, The Bleacher Report).
Jackie’s brother Al won a Gold Medal at the 1984 Olympics in the triple jump, and in 1987 married star runner Florence Griffith (“Flo-Jo”, who was also coached by Bob Kersee).
During the 1988 Summer Olympics Joyner-Kersee set another record winning the Gold Medal in the Heptathlon, setting records that stand today. She also became the first American woman to ever win the Gold Medal for the long jump.
In the 1992 Olympics Jackie Joyner-Kersee won both Gold and Bronze Medals; and, in 1995 was awarded the World Athlete of the Year. It is reported by fellow-athlete, Joanna Hayes (2004 Olympic Gold Medalist 100 meter hurdles), that Joyner-Kersee tore her hamstring training for the 1996 Olympics (Atlanta, Georgia), but went on to fight it out and compete with a heavily wrapped upper leg, taking the Bronze Medal in the long jump regardless of her injury that would have been debilitating to lesser athletes.
Joyner-Kersee was honored on February 21, 1998 as one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball, and in April 2001 she was voted the “Top Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years.” The vote was conducted among the 976 NCAA member schools (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Joyner-Kersee).
Joyner-Kersee has set records in the heptathlon four times and still maintains title as the American record-holder in the long jump of 7.49 m, and is second on the long jump “all time” list. She has competed in four different Olympic games. Jackie was also a world class athlete in 100 m hurdles and 200 meters, and as of June 2006 she is in the top 60 “all time” in those events (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Joyner-Kersee). Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century.
In 2001, Jackie Joyner-Kersee officially retired from athletic competitions, at the age of 38, due to exercise-induced asthma, and now works hard to help the youth in the town where she grew up. The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation was established in 1988. This evolved into the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation which encourages youth in her underprivileged hometown to play sports (Joyner-Kersee serves as Chairperson). Her original Community Foundation joined with the East St. Louis Youth Center Foundation, and later partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs to become the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club. Additionally, in 2007, in coordination with sports heroes such as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Mia Hamm, Joyner-Kersee helped establish Athletes for Hope (http://www.biography.com/people/jackie-joyner-kersee-9358710#personal-life). Jackie Joyner Kersee has authored an autobiography that was published in 1997, called A Kind of Grace. She and her husband own a NASCAR racing team called JKR Motorsports, and she founed Heptathlon LLC which oversees her business and philanthropic efforts worldwide.
To view the Laundry-list of achievements and records set by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, visit the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame website at: (http://www.usatf.org/halloffame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=201)