WGL ’13: US female Olympian pumps up energy audience, touts value of hard work

By Billy Thinnes
Technical Editor

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 Women’s Global Leadership Conference on Wednesday.

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-Kersee’s first opportunity to make the US Olympic team came in 1980 when she was a senior in high school.

“I went to the trials and realized I wasn’t 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 audience’s 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 sister.

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 who’s honest, who will be my friend, but be a demanding friend, someone who when I am not doing what I’m 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 didn’t give it my best,” she said. “Because I didn’t go to the starting line in the right mind set. It taught me that you can’t take your gifts for granted, you must take advantage of that moment because you might not ever get that moment again.”

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.

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