Track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, winner of six Olympic medals and four world-champion titles, will discuss “Running the Race With Grace and Humility On and Off the Track” in a lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 23, in James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall in Anderson Student Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Her talk, free and open to the public, is sponsored by St. Thomas’ University Lectures Committee.
When Joyner-Kersee was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1962, her teenage parents named her Jacquiline after then-first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy. According to a family story, one of her grandmothers said, “Someday this girl will be the first lady of something.”
As a high-school student, Joyner-Kersee excelled in track, basketball and volleyball, and won the National Junior Pentathlon four years in a row. As a junior, she set a state high-school long jump record for women.
She attended the University of California Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship and graduated in 1985 with a degree in history. As a college student she began training for the Olympics, and especially for the long jump and the seven-event heptathlon. It’s also when she was diagnosed with severe asthma and learned how to control it. “The most important thing is to be able to run, jump and get up in the morning and see my family and do different things,” she said. “And to do that, I have to take my medicines regularly. This disease can be controlled.”
Joyner-Kersee won her first Olympic medal, a silver in the heptathlon, at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Four years later, in Korea, she won gold in both the heptathlon and long jump. At the 1992 games in Spain, she took another gold in the heptathlon and bronze in the long jump. In her last Olympics, the 1996 games in Atlanta, she won a bronze medal in the long jump despite a pulled hamstring.
After retiring from track and field competition in 2001, at 38, she focused on a career in philanthropy and as an advocate for children’s education, racial equality, social reform, women’s rights and health issues, especially asthma. She founded and chairs the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and opened a center in East St. Louis that provides services to thousands of youth and their families.
She was the first to receive the Humanitarian Athlete of the Year award, and in addition to being named “The Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated, she was honored by Track and Field News as the World Athlete of the Year three times, and was named top American Athlete five times.