Jackie Joyner-Kersee: My Friendship With an Idol
Like a lot of female athletes, I grew up watching Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She was and remains an icon to me.
Now I am also lucky enough to call her a friend and mentor.
When I was younger, I read Jackie’s book, and I remember her coming to Seattle for a clinic about asthma, a condition she has prospered through. I remember all of us being at the Garfield Community Center, and running around following Jackie’s every move, listening to what she was saying. That was a big deal. THE Jackie Joyner-Kersee was in our town.
After seeing her that initial time when I was a kid, I saw her as my career went on — at appearances and things like that — but never really got the chance to talk with her. It wasn’t until after I started training with Bobby that I truly met her. My first year training with Bobby, I hurt my knee and he sent me back to St. Louis to see the doctor, and stay at their house.
All of a sudden, I was under the care of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
She picked me up at the airport, took me to their house, took me to my doctors appointment, and that’s how my relationship started with her. She treated me like family from day one. In the beginning, I was still star struck, like, “Oh my god, this is Jackie Joyner-Kersee.” It wasn’t until the last couple years that we’ve gotten really close.
She’s a great mentor who gives great advice, someone I consider a friend and like family to me. I was able to build that type of relationship with her because of the type of heart she has. I definitely feel that it’s her who spearheaded the relationship. She takes the time to reach out and have those types of connections with people.
So when I hurt my knee again this year, I went back to St. Louis for the surgery and stayed with Jackie. She looked after me, checked on me and took care of me.
With this latest setback and throughout the different injuries I have dealt with in my career, there have definitely been times that I’ve wanted to quit. But she’s constantly telling me that she’s thinking about me, encouraging me not to give up, and letting me know that I still have what it takes to succeed in this sport. It’s the little things she’s always telling me that mean the most.
I still look at her as THE Jackie Joyner-Kersee, but she’s definitely more like family. There’s nothing I can’t tell her or talk to her about. She’s just pleasant. She works hard and still years after running, she’s still working hard in the community, not for recognition, but because that’s what she feels her duty is.
LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
Since Jackie was letting me stay here, and I feel like I can never truly repay the things that she and Bobby have done for me, I asked if — while I was here — there were any projects she was working on that I could help out with in any way.
She happened to be hosting a program called Love and 4giveness at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis days before my surgery, so I was able to help out with that. There were about 50 middle school-age girls in attendance, and we spent the whole day there. We had breakfast and lunch, did a bunch of activities and contests to encourage them.
Love and 4giveness is something Jackie is really passionate about. It’s based in an area of East St. Louis, where Jackie is from. The goal is to teach kids how to love. That starts by teaching them how to love themselves first, and then goes into how to love people around them, and how to forgive others who have hurt them in their home life or just their peers at school.
She breaks down the whole program into segments. As part of one exercise, she had everybody close their eyes and picture themselves and how they view themselves. The message behind that was to teach them how to love the skin that they’re in, and how to take that same emotion and carry it over into their interactions at school, at work, through sports or anything else.
It emphasizes that whatever your goals are, keep love first and forgive people. You never know if you’re going to be on the other end of that, and need somebody to forgive you. It can go a long way to stopping violence and things like that if we have people forgiving, and just taking that time out to really encourage one another.
It also teaches love and forgiveness through sports. Jackie uses her journey and her love for track as an example. You can have that same love you have for someone for something you do, like track. Sports can be unforgiving because at any moment, things can just change for you. There are so many examples — myself included. But if you have that love, you can get through it.
It was a message that resonated with me and a lot of the other adults there too, including parents who stuck around. A lot of them told Jackie afterward that they needed that message as well, to provide encouragement and reassurance in themselves about their lives.
As another part of the program, Jackie asked me if I would speak during a segment called, “Refuse to Quit.” Being in the situation I’m in and with my whole story in track and field — dealing with injuries but still having success — I was actually the perfect person for Refuse to Quit.
She was really hands-on and she went out and handpicked this stuff for the girls to give them goody bags at the end of the day. Most people probably send someone to does those things, who they tell to grab this and pick up that. But she and her assistant went out and did it all themselves. To be right there witnessing the effort she puts into it was pretty cool.
The whole program was a great experience. But most of all, I enjoyed being in Jackie’s presence, watching her do the things she does in the community, and learning from her. Just watching her preparation for the event was motivating.