The woman named “the greatest athlete of the 20th century” by Sports Illustrated knows the importance of community.
Four-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee spoke Thursday in the K-State Union’s Grand Ballroom in celebration of Women’s History Month. She also planned to speak at the Women’s History Month dinner on Thursday evening.
Joyner-Kersee said the Mary Brown Community Center in East St. Louis, Illinois, represented her first exposure to sports.
“I believe that my environment and my upbringing helped shape some of my ideals,” Joyner-Kersee said. “The Mary Brown Center was dear to my heart.”
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation provides opportunities for involvement in sports and to improve the quality of life with a particular focus in East St. Louis.
Joyner-Kersee said the genesis of this idea came from her freshman year at UCLA when her mother died.
“I wanted to go to the center, where I knew there would be a lot of love,” she said. “But the center was closed, and I started thinking, ‘Where do the young people go?’” In addition to her hometown community, Joyner-Kersee said she recognized the importance of being a role model for women.
“Stay true to who you are, especially young ladies,” she said. “We have to love ourselves first.”
Joyner-Kersee won the silver medal in the heptathlon in 1984, gold in the heptathlon and long jump in 1988, gold in the heptathlon in 1992, and bronze in the long jump in 1992 and 1996.
“When I first started running at the age of 9, I wasn’t the fastest,” she said. “I wasn’t one of the best, but I wanted to be really good.”
Moderator Gwen Wentland-Miniski shares an American record in the heptathlon high jump with Joyner-Kersee.
“Jackie Joyner-Kersee is our sporting version of American royalty,” she said.
This year is the 45th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination against girls and women in education as well as athletics.
Angela Hubler, interim head of the K-State gender, women, and sexuality studies department, said Title IX has made a wide-ranging impact on women’s self esteem, body image and health through sports.
“Athletics allows girls to value female bodies that are healthy, active and strong instead of decorative objects for male pleasure,” she said.