Kersee, Jackie Joyner

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1962- ), one of the world's greatest female athletes, won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals over four consecutive Olympic games. She was a heptathlete who holds the world record at 7,291 points and Olympic and national records in the long jump. As a philanthropist, she is dedicated to the development of young people. She established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois.

Biographical Highlights

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, through her athletic achievements has earned the title of the "world's greatest female athlete" (Sports Stars USA 2003). Among many notable accomplishments, she won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals over four consecutive Olympic games. Joyner-Kersee was the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the Olympic heptathlon. She continues to hold the world record in the heptathlon: 7,291 points. She also holds the Olympic and national records in the long jump. Her 1994 performance in the long jump remains the second longest in history. These accomplishments and the example of her life make Jackie-Joyner-Kersee a hero, a humanitarian, a symbol of strength and courage, an overcomer, an achiever, and a role model for our youth.

Not as heavily publicized, Jackie has also stood out as a philanthropist through her generosity, kind spirit, and dedication to the development of young people, particularly in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois. She established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation in 1988. In 1997, the Foundation joined with the East St. Louis Youth Center Foundation to form the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, of which Jackie serves as chairperson. The Foundation has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs to create the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club. The Foundation and Boys & Girls Club serve the citizens of East St. Louis.

In addition to athletic and philanthropic achievements, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has accomplishments in other areas. She is the author of A Kind of Grace , her autobiography that was published in 1997. She is a savvy businesswoman. She is the co-owner, with husband Bob Kersee, of a NASCAR racing team, JKR Motorsports. She founded Heptathlon LLC, which manages her daily business activities and philanthropic efforts worldwide; it also serves as a marketing resource for other

Historic Roots

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born Jacqueline Joyner to parents Mary and Alfred Joyner on March 3, 1962. Jackie recalls in her autobiography that at the time she was born, John Kennedy was president and her paternal grandmother stated to her mother, "if it's a girl, name her Jacqueline because she'll be the first lady of something" (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997, 12). Jackie's grandmother was speaking a prophetic word that would be realized in her life.

In her autobiography, Joyner-Kersee describes humble beginnings. Jackie's parents were very young when they married. Her mother, Mary, was sixteen when Jackie's older brother Al was born. She was eighteen when she gave birth to Jackie. Jackie, her parents, paternal grandmother, and three siblings shared a home in East St. Louis, Illinois. Sometimes, in the winter the furnace would break down and Jackie's parents would heat the house with the oven. Another casualty of winter was the water pipes bursting. Jackie and her family saved jugs of water in the event of this happening and they heated the water on the stove to bathe and wash dishes (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997). Jackie grew up in a neighborhood that had strong community ties yet was plagued with violence. Her parents did their best to shelter and protect their family (Ibid.).

Although it was a struggle for her parents and grandmother to put food on the table and care for four children, they survived and, in Jackie's own words, "always had love" (Sports Stars USA 2003). Joyner-Kersee speaks of her mother as a loving yet strong disciplinarian. "She was determined to put us on the path to a better life by teaching us to be disciplined, hardworking and responsible. The complete list of her rules would fill this book," Jackie writes affectionately (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997, 22). Jackie describes her father as having a reputation as a "quick-tempered, tough guy around the south side of East St. Louis. No one messed with A.J. (as her father was called) or his family" (Ibid., 26 - 27). She said her father also had a "tender side he rarely revealed" and a "childlike, playful streak" (Ibid.). Because Jackie's parents knew the pressure and responsibility of teen parenting, they had a rule that their kids could not date until the age of sixteen. They also promoted abstinence from sex (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997).

At age ten, through a program at the Mary E. Brown Community Center, Jackie began training and competing in track and field events. During the time of her youth, there was little value placed on women's sports. Women's competitive sports was viewed as unfeminine by many people. Joyner-Kersee expresses her opinion of this stereotype: "I see elegance and beauty in every female athlete. I don't think being an athlete is unfeminine. I think of it as a kind of grace" (Ibid.).

Interestingly, her coach from elementary through high school, Nino Fennoy, encouraged the young girls he coached to use sports as a vehicle to open doors for educational and other opportunities outside of East St. Louis. At times, when traveling to meets, the track team encountered racial prejudice. Coach Fennoy taught Jackie and her teammates how to handle these situations appropriately and diplomatically. When later faced with racially charged situations during her professional career, Jackie remembered her coach's advice and handled the situations with dignity and professionalism. Her respect for Fennoy and appreciation for his belief in her are gifts she carried with her beyond high school.

Jackie's stellar athletic performances in high school brought her attention and an opportunity to attend college. At age fourteen, Jackie won the first of four straight national junior pentathlon championships. The pentathlon consisted of five events: the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, the shot put and the 800 meter run. In high school, Jackie also played volleyball and led her basketball and track and field teams to state championships. Jackie was offered college scholarships in both track and basketball. She accepted a basketball scholarship from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, during Jackie's freshman year, her beloved mother Mary "contracted a deadly bacterial infection that led to a rare condition known as Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome" (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997, 109). Jackie and her siblings had to make the heart-wrenching decision to take their mother off of a respirator. Of her mother she spoke, "the Mary Joyner we all knew"”my mother, and my life's greatest inspiration?was gone. My mother meant everything to me. She was my confidante, my teammate and my best friend" (Ibid., 107, 112). Despite losing her mother, Jackie drew strength from her desire to fulfill the dreams her mother had for her. She also had the support of her family, friends, and college coach.

At UCLA, Jackie set collegiate records in 1982 and 1983 and earned All-America honors. She was honored with the school's All-University Award in 1982, 1983 and 1985. She won the Broderick Cup when she was chosen as the country's most outstanding female collegiate track athlete in 1983 and 1985. Jackie graduated from UCLA with a major in history.

Jackie's college coach, Bob Kersee encouraged her to train and compete in multiple events. Jackie eventually quit basketball to train in track and field as an Olympic hopeful. In 1983, she and her brother Al represented the United States at the world championships in Helsinki, Finland. Yet, they had to pull out of the competition due to injuries (Biography Resource Center 2003). They both went on to compete in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where Jackie won the silver medal in the heptathlon (a two-day event in which athletes compete in the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200-meter race on the first day and in the long jump, javelin, and 800-meter race on the second day). Al Joyner won the gold medal in the triple jump.

In 1986, Jackie married her coach, Bob Kersee, solidifying an already dynamic team. That same year, she gave up basketball for the heptathlon, setting two world records in one month. In the 1988 Olympics, Joyner-Kersee won a gold medal in the heptathlon and took the gold medal in the long jump, flying a phenomenal 24 feet, 3.5 inches. In 1992, Jackie took home another Olympic gold medal in the heptathlon and a bronze in the long jump. In the1996 Olympics, Jackie was forced to withdraw from the heptathlon due a hamstring injury. However, she went on to capture the bronze medal in the long jump.

Jackie briefly played with the Richmond, Virginia, Rage in the American Basketball League for women in 1996. Yet, she left in the middle of the season to prevent potential injuries (Biography Resource Center 2003). In 1998, Joyner-Kersee competed in the Goodwill Games in Uniondale, New York, where she won the heptathlon, and retired from her athletic career in triumph, at the age of thirty-six.

In July 2000, Jackie resurfaced from retirement and impressively qualified at the Olympic Trials for the finals after a two-year break. However, she eventually lost her spot on the Olympic team to Marion Jones, who has publicly acknowledged what an inspiration and role model Jackie Joyner-Kersee is to her (Biography 2003).

Jackie Joyner-Kersee's professional athletic career spanned two decades. Her incomparable achievements have "earned her a reputation as the world's best all-around athlete and the greatest heptathlete of all time" (Distinguished Women 2003). In spite of the importance of success and competition in her life, Joyner-Kersee has always advocated staying drug-free. She consistently maintained that she has competed throughout her career without performance-enhancing drugs. She has excelled even though she battled with asthma and allergies throughout her career (Joyner-Kersee and Steptoe 1997). Jackie has almost lost her life to asthma and warns asthma suffers, "asthma won't keep you on the sidelines if you follow doctor's orders and take your medicine properly. But if you don't the condition will take you out of the game - permanently" (Ibid., 291).


After retirement, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has not stopped to cool her heels. She is a popular motivational speaker. She is also a spokesperson and role model for asthma sufferers. She has been 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 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation.

After many years of trying to rebuild the Mary E. Brown Community Center she cherished during her youth, in 1997 she announced that the Jackie-Joyner Kersee Youth Center Foundation would provide funds to build a new recreational facility on thirty-seven acres in the center of East St. Louis, it would be called the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center. It is this community mindedness, combined with Jackie's business savvy and gracious demeanor that won her an appointment to the St. Louis Sports Commission. She is the first female, the first African-American, the first Illinois native, and the first active athlete to serve as the Commission's chairperson.

Joyner-Kersee is not only an outstanding athlete, a role model for youth, and a philanthropist who believes in investing in the lives of young people; she is known for being a good person. A Los Angeles Times reporter Randy Harvey wrote of her, "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" (Biography Resource Center 2003).

In addition to Jackie's many medals and records she has held, she has been honored with many prestigious awards. Some of which include:

Olympic silver medal in heptathlon, 1984; Athlete of the Year citation from Track and Field News (three respective years); Jesse Owens Award (first athlete to win two years in a row); established world record in heptathlon competition, 1986; Sullivan Award for Best Amateur Athlete (two years in a row); Amateur Sportswoman of the Year from McDonald's; Olympic gold medals in heptathlon and long jump (the first American ever to win a gold medal in the long jump), 1988; Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year; International Amateur Athlete of the Year; Goodwill Games Outstanding Athlete Award; honorary doctorate from University of Missouri; Olympic gold medal in heptathlon and bronze medal in long jump, 1992; Female Athlete of the Year, U.S. Olympic committee; the first woman athlete ever to score more than 7,000 points in a heptathlon competition; the top six performances in the heptathlon in history (including the world record of 7,291 points); bronze medal in the long jump, 1996; Sporting News Athlete of the Year (first woman to win); Amateur Athlete of the Year Award from the Women's Sports Foundation; Glamour Amateur Athlete of the Year Award; Humanitarian of the Year Award presented by the Volunteers of America; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Outstanding Achievement presented by the Congress of Racial Equality.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Joyner-Kersee created the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club, which is a member organization of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The Club provides educational and recreational programs that assist in the promotion of the rebirth of East St. Louis and, in turn, enhance the entire St. Louis region (Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club 2003). The Club is now housed in the multi-functional facility called the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Center was held in March 2000. The $6 million facility located in East St. Louis serves 2400 young people ages six to eighteen annually from the Metro East communities of East St. Louis, Washington Park, Alorton, Centerville, and Brooklyn. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Bob Kersee spoke for his wife and advocates of young people when he said, "we are all responsible for the youth of America" (Lamkin 2003).

This attitude was apparent when many contributors made donations to help build the Center. There were large contributions from Joyner-Kersee and Bob Kersee as well as millions of private dollars raised by the couple for the project. East St. Louis residents also raised money to invest in their own community's center. There was minimal state and local government assistance.

A large number of programs exist at the Center. They include: community development programs, youth education and career development, health and life Skills, sports fitness and recreation, the arts, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Gold Medal Scholarship Program, and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Relays.

On June 6, 2002, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club, in cooperation with The Christian Activity Center and Intel Corporation, opened two new Intel Computer Clubhouses in East St. Louis. The Intel Computer Clubhouse is described as:

[A]n after-school program that provides youth ages 10 to 18 access to high-tech equipment, professional software and adult mentors to help them develop the self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning skills needed to create new opportunities. Youth who visit the Computer Clubhouse learn by doing. They create digital artwork, produce their own music CDs, film, write and edit their own short movies and design websites. The Intel Computer Clubhouses are invention workshops where youth can become designers, not just consumers of computer-based creations. (Intel 2003)

These philanthropic accomplishments clearly show Joyner-Kersee's interest in serving her community. In her own words, she explains this commitment as this author had the tremendous honor of interviewing Jackie Joyner-Kersee personally. During the interview, Joyner-Kersee spoke about her philanthropic efforts, philosophy of living, achievements, honors and successes. The following is that conversation:

L.C. - Through all of the physical and mental endurance tests and challenges with asthma and allergies, what have been your sources of strength?

J.J.K. - Spiritual strength and strength of family.

L.C. - You have done so much for the educational, athletic and artistic development of young people through your work at the JJK Youth Foundation, the JJK Boys & Girls Club and the JJK Center. You obviously have a passion for aiding youth in developing their potential. What do you feel are some of the challenges facing young people today and what do you feel can be done to reduce or eliminate some of these challenges?

J.J.K. - Some of their challenges are the ability of young people to map out what they want to do. Even though you map out a course, you may have to take left and right turns. That doesn't mean you have failed, you (young people) have to be persistent and keep going.

A journey doesn't end tomorrow. Some people's journey may take two days and some others may take eight years. You need patience and understanding and to believe in the course you are taking.

L.C. - You expressed in your autobiography what an inspiration and example your mother was for you. What role do you feel parenting plays in the development of youth?

J.J.K. - Parents, guardians and parental authoritative figures are significant to a young person's ongoing development and character building. More so for their inner self, believing in themselves, self-esteem, not in an arrogant way, but knowing they can achieve anything. Young people need encouragement on a daily basis.

If there is discipline in the home, it is easier to send your children into the school system where they are under someone else's guidance. The teacher's responsibility is to teach and to nurture. Parental figures are an extension of the school.

L.C. - It sounds like you are expressing the need for young people to have pride in themselves.

J.J.K. - Pride is a powerful word. Pride in school, in who you are, the way you look, sound and who you surround yourself with. young people should surround themselves with people who have similar goals and who believe in what they believe in. Even if their goal is different, their struggles and need for encouragement are similar. What you get out of the struggle is that you never gave up. Believe in it (what goal you are trying to reach) and don't question the work you have to do; results speak for themselves.

L.C. - What does it mean to have a successful life?

J.J.K. - A successful life is being happy on the inside; having an inner peace. Success is being able to have independence knowing you have laid a foundation. You also have the issue and responsibility of living up to it. Happiness for me comes from helping others and yet you also have to help yourself. I've always worked from the standpoint of having a disadvantage, in order to beat others or myself. People considered me the best, yet I was never the best in my eyes. Knowing you will never get to the point of being satisfied?even in yourself?means your work is never done.

Results are yesterday. Today you should go at your goals with the same energy, tenacity, and thought pattern. That is easy to say and difficult to do. Know your journey, the course you have to take and what you have to do.

L.C. - What do you want your legacy to be?

J.J.K. - I want the work I am doing at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center to live on forever. To instill in the young people that come through those doors, that I am there for them as a human being, the importance of education, athletics, character building and learning about self.

Many thanks to Jackie Joyner-Kersee for sharing with me her insight and philosophy on encouraging, uplifting, and educating America's youth. Her philanthropic efforts are crossing racial and socio-economic barriers to challenge young people to heed the call of greatness.

These efforts and the philosophies she carries through her life are evident in the video documentary A Dream in Motion: the Philanthropy of Jackie Joyner-Kersee . The film traces her life "as an Olympic champion, world record holder in track and field, and her dream to build a community center in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois" (Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club 2003). It premiered in St. Louis during November 2001 and received the prestigious Award of Excellence at the Communicator Awards. The film was underwritten by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee's need to make a difference is evident through her own words: "When I leave this earth, I want to know I've created something that will help others" (Sports Stars USA 2003). She is a living philanthropist and legend who is able to see the results of her efforts during her lifetime.

Key Related Ideas

  • Athletics - Jackie Joyner-Kersee has been called the "world's best all-around athlete and the greatest heptathlete of all time" (Distinguished Women 2003).
  • Children's education - The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center provides educational and career development workshops, tutoring and computer classes to youth ages six to eighteen.
  • Health advocacy and asthma - Joyner-Kersee has suffered from asthma throughout her career and advises asthma sufferers to follow the advice of their doctors in order to stay functional and healthy while living with the condition.
  • Racial equality - Joyner-Kersee has encountered racial remarks while competing in her professional career. She has handled these situations diplomatically and maintained a positive attitude and focus on accomplishing her goals.
  • Social reform - Women athletes throughout history have been stereotyped as unfeminine. Joyner-Kersee fought against stereotypes and recognizes that female athletes can be both competitive in sports and feminine at the same time.
  • Women's rights - Throughout her career, Joyner-Kersee demonstrated that women possess insurmountable strength, both physically and mentally, deserving a place in history alongside their male counterparts.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Florence Griffith Joyner - Flo-Jo, as she was known, was one of Jackie's contemporaries and her sister-in-law (the wife of brother, Al Joyner). She was a flamboyant track and field star once known as the fastest woman in the world. Flo-Jo won three gold and two silver medals setting the 100-meter record at 10.49 seconds.
  • Ken Griffey, Jr . - Griffey is a major league baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds and a volunteer and sponsor for Make a Wish Foundation and Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club. He sponsors a program offered at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club.
  • Michael Jordan - Jordan was a NBA basketball player for the Washington Wizards and the former star player of the Chicago Bulls. He also was an Olympic basketball gold medal team member. He created the Michael Jordan Foundation in 1989, which closed in 1996 to form the James R. Jordan Boys & Girls Club and Family Life Center in Chicago, Illinois. Like Griffey, Jordan sponsors a program offered at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club.
  • Wilma Rudolph - Rudolph was an American track and field star who overcame debilitating illnesses as a child to become the first American to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. She was a friend and personal hero of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
  • Dawn Staley - Staley is a WNBA basketball player for the Charlotte Sting. She was honored as the recipient of the WNBA Hometown Hero Award for her community service work in the Charlotte and Philadelphia communities. She created the Dawn Staley Foundation and sponsors a program offered at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation Inc. - The mission is "to serve inner city youths who are at risk of dropping out of school by improving their self-esteem, character, work ethic, and academic performance" (Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation 2003).
  • Dawn Staley Foundation - The mission is "to provide a multi-faceted program designed to empower young women with the necessary education and life skills to become responsible and proactive community leaders through academics, sport activity, and community outreach" (Dawn Staley Foundation 2002).
  • Jesse Owens Foundation - The goal of the JOF is "to promote the development of youth to their fullest potential. The foundation established the Ruth and Jesse Owens Scholars Program at Ohio State University to provide services to graduating high school seniors" (Jesse Owens Foundation 2003).
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation - The mission is "to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations" (W.K. Kellogg Foundation 2003). The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is a financial supporter of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.

Related Web Sites

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America Web site , at , provides information on B&GCA programs and services "that enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging, and influence" (Boys and Girls Clubs of America 2003). The site contains a locator to help visitors identify clubs in their local communities and provides news on B&GCA-related subjects.
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club Web site , soon to be available at , will provide details on the educational, athletic, and arts-based programs available to the youth of East St. Louis, Illinois.
  • St. Louis Sports Commission Web site , at , provides information on the Commission whose purpose is to generate "economic benefit and enhanced quality of life in the St. Louis region through sports events, national promotion, local awareness, amateur sports development and youth programs" (Lamkin 2003).

Bibliography and Internet Sources

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Distinguished Women of Past and Present. Jackie Joyner-Kersee . [cited 28 January 2003]. Available from .

Houghton Mifflin Education Place. Meet the Author: Jackie Joyner-Kersee . [cited 28 January 2003]. Available from .

Intel. Christian Activity Center And Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club Open Intel Computer Clubhouses . [cited 28 January 2003]. Available at

Jackie Joyner-Kersee Boys & Girls Club. Homepage . [cited 28 January 2003]. Available at .

Jesse Owens Foundation. JOF at a Glance . [cited 2 February 2003]. Available at .

Joyner-Kersee, Jackie. Telephone conversation with author. 5 February 2003.

Joyner-Kersee, Jackie, and Sonja Steptoe. A Kind of Grace . New York: Warner Brothers Books, 1997. ISBN 0-4465-2248-1.

Lamkin, Walter. "Joyner-Kersee Fulfills Dream With New Facility." American City Business Journals (31 March 2000). [cited 18 January 2003]. Available from

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Michael Jordan Foundation. Welcome to the Michael Jordan Foundation . [cited 2 February 2003]. Available at

Russell, Corigan and Vincent F.A. Golphin. "Over the Top: Olympic Star's Positive Thoughts Take Jackie Joyner-Kersee Over Health Hurdles." About.Time Magazine (April 1997). [cited 28 January 2003]. Available from .

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W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Overview of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation . [cited 2 February 2 2003]. Available from .

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University. It is offered by Learning To Give and Grand Valley State University.