A six-time Olympic medal winner told attendees at last night's Women's Health Night they can overcome obstacles because she was able to achieve her dreams despite losing her mother at age 18 and being diagnosed with severe asthma.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee said when she first learned she had asthma she treated the doctors and nurses like an enemy. But, later she educated herself about the disease and treated it like the enemy she had to defeat. The Olympic athlete has three gold medals, one silver and two bronze and holds the world record in points for the heptathlon.
She encouraged those attending the annual Illinois Heart and Lung Foundation event at Illinois Wesleyan University not to lose faith in their abilities, despite limitations. "You must see yourself through the challenges you're faced with and know that something better is going to come out of this," she said. The now-retired track and field athlete and former pro basketball player said participants should not compare themselves to others but just do their best. "Even if you're in a chair or in a wheelchair, you can still use your arms." She also suggested reaching out for help. "We all have battles we're fighting but find someone to help you. We all can be motivational for each other."
Advice for Track and Field Athletes
Joyner-Kersee made an impromptu stop to chat with IWU Track and Field Athletes. She told them how an injury before her first Olympics in 1984 kept her mind focused too much on potential pain and dashed her hopes for a gold medal in the heptathlon which she was favored to win. "I'm not taking away anything from being a silver medalist but when you know in your heart your a gold medalist, it doesn't mean anything."
It was then she learned to always view herself as a champion crossing the finish line. "I said to myself if God blesses me to make another Olympic team, I want to be the toughest athlete out there mentally because physically I know I can do it but mentally ... injuries do that to us," she warned. Joyner-Kersee also advised the Wesleyan athletes to be careful who they keep company with because, as she put it, "Your friends? They might not be your friends. You gotta understand your goals and what it's going to take to reach your goals."
Organizers agreed Joyner-Kersee was one of the most personable and engaging keynote speakers for the annual event, now in its 19th year. She joked with several dozen participants as she led them in warm-ups on the Shirk Center track. "Control! You gotta control it. Common "flip flop group" you gotta roll it in she said laughing while demonstrating her last warm-up which had attendees flat back, feet in the air, doing small circles while forearms and hands rested on the ground.
Joyner-Kersee is from East St. Louis and when she retired, she started the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation to encourage young people there to get involved in sports while also teaching them life skills. In 2007, she also helped establish Athletes for Hope with partners including Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Mia Hamm.