By Billy Thinnes
HOUSTON -- Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
perhaps the greatest American female athlete of all time,
brought her message of hope, faith, perseverance and hard work
to the Womens Global Leadership Conference on
During her keynote address, Joyner-Kersee traced her life
from growing up poor in East St. Louis, Illinois, to becoming a
world record holding Olympian. During her track and field
career, Joyner-Kersee was a dominant force in the heptathlon
and the long jump, winning three Olympic golds in a career that
spanned the 1980s and early 1990s.
Steve Williams from BP, who introduced her, was spot on in his
remarks when he said that Joyner-Kersee was that rare
combination of strength and grace.
Joyner-Kersees first opportunity to make the US
Olympic team came in 1980 when she was a senior in high
I went to the trials and realized I wasnt really
prepared, she said. My coaches had prepared me, but
I had no idea all these people from all over the national would
show up and watch me. My knees were knocking.
During those trials, Joyner-Kersee finished 8th
but walked away knowing she could do make the team in the
future. Working toward that goal, she accepted a scholarship to
UCLA and at the US Olympic Trials in 1984, she set a national
record. Still, disappointment would greet at the 1984 Olympic
Games in Los Angeles as a nagging leg injury affected her
mental outlook and her performance suffered.
A winner can win once, but a champion will figure out
how to win multiple times, Joyner-Kersee said.
Never be satisfied.
As she recounted her struggles and failures before she
finally found the right combination of coaching, hard work and
mental fortitude to break through and win gold in the 1988
Seoul Olympics, Joyner-Kersee held the audiences rapt
attention. Conference attendees held onto her every word,
laughing mightily as she described marrying her coach Bob
Kersee and applauding fervently her salient words of advice to
a high school student seeking the best way to mentor her little
During the question and answer session following her
prepared remarks, an audience member asked what Joyner-Kersee
looked for in a coach.
The qualities I look for are someone whos
honest, who will be my friend, but be a demanding friend,
someone who when I am not doing what Im supposed to be
doing will confront me, but listen as well, she said.
A coach should be understanding, hard-nosed, and not let
me use excuses, but at the same time be nurturing, motivating
and a voice of reason.
Joyner-Kersee also shared how she learned from her failure
at the 1984 Olympics.
I gave it my best but I didnt give it my
best, she said. Because I didnt go to the
starting line in the right mind set. It taught me that you
cant take your gifts for granted, you must take advantage
of that moment because you might not ever get that moment
Joyner-Kersee, who projected an aura of positive
feminine power from the podium with her pink fingernails,
leopard print blouse and large hoop earrings, was adamant that
those who receive God given gifts and blessings must work hard
to get those most out of themselves. When she had answered the
last question and provided the last bit of advice for the
career women at WGLC, Joyner-Kersee paused, and the audience
promptly gave her a standing ovation.