Joyner-kersee cites mind over body

Leg­end ad­dressed mil­i­tary per­son­nel

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY CARLA PEAY

In­side an op­u­lent ball­room at Na­tional Har­bor, a set­ting usu­ally oc­cu­pied by peo­ple wear­ing busi­ness suits, it was a day when women in uni­form were in charge.

The event Mon­day was the sil­ver an­niver­sary of the Joint Women’s Lead­er­ship Sym­po­sium, and, for the first time in 25 years, all five branches of the mil­i­tary were present.

The guest speak­ers in­cluded ad­mi­rals and gen­er­als, and an ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Obama. But no one was more in­spi­ra­tional than four-time Olympic track and field star Jackie Joyner-kersee.

In a speech that was hu­mor­ous and stir­ring, she brought the of­fi­cers and sol­diers to their feet more than once as she spoke of doubts, of chal­lenges and of strug­gles, and her search for a pain that wasn’t there.

“I set my sights on mak­ing an Olympic team, not re­al­iz­ing how tough it was go­ing to be,” Joyner-kersee said, de­scrib­ing in amus­ing de­tail the path to her first Olympic Games in 1984.

“About six weeks be­fore the ’84 games, I pulled my left ham­string. I wasn’t used to my leg not do­ing what I wanted it to do.”

Dur­ing the Games, with her leg heav­ily taped, she com­peted with a ten­ta­tive pos­ture as she waited for her leg to give out, for the pain she ex­pected to come. It never did. As she walked away with a sil­ver medal in the hep­tathlon, she re­al­ized that ex­pect­ing to lose had cost her the gold.

“The pain that I imag­ined, it wasn’t there,” Joyner-kersee said. “It was all in my mind. I wasn’t think­ing like a cham­pion. I stepped in the start­ing blocks with a timid at­ti­tude.”

At her post-event news con­fer­ence, she de­cided that her in­jury would not be an ex­cuse.

“If I’m blessed to make an­other Olympic team,” she de­cided then, “I know that I have to be the tough­est one out there men­tally. Phys­i­cally, I know I have a gift; but men­tally, I wasn’t pre­pared to take on the chal­lenge that was in front of me.”

It was an ex­pe­ri­ence that changed her life and set the tone for her suc­cess.

“I didn’t want it bad enough,” Joyn­erKersee said. “I had to change my be­hav­ior and change my at­ti­tude.”

“I told my­self that if this is what I want, then I have to be will­ing — I don’t care what com­pe­ti­tion it is — I have to be will­ing to pull ev­ery mus­cle in my body to get the job done. That be­came my at­ti­tude.”

Joyner-kersee went on to win six Olympic medals — three golds, one sil­ver and two bronze. Along with a sil­ver in the hep­tathlon in ’84, she won golds in the hep­tathlon and the long jump in ’88, a gold in the hep­tathlon and a bronze in the long jump in ’92 and a bronze in the long jump in 1996.

In 1999, Sports Il­lus­trated for Women named her the great­est fe­male ath­lete of the 20th cen­tury.

Af­ter her speech, Joyner-kersee, 50, talked about what keeps her fo­cused and chal­lenged, and what she has in com­mon with women who serve in the mil­i­tary.

“I wanted to [speak at the sym­po­sium] be­cause these are the women I find mo­ti­va­tional,” Joyner-kersee said. “What they stand for is the strength of so many women pulling to­gether to make a dif­fer­ence.”

The St. Louis res­i­dent is heav­ily in­volved with com­mu­nity work, mo­ti­va­tional speeches and pro­mot­ing fit­ness and well­ness pro­grams for youths.

“It’s im­por­tant to me to try and ex­pose young peo­ple to the things they be­lieve are off-lim­its to them,” Joyn­erKersee said. “I tell them, ‘There are no walls, only the ones we put up.’ My ad­vice to young peo­ple look­ing at my life is not to fol­low my foot­print but to go out there and make their own.”


Pey­ton Man­ning (above) is ap­proach­ing his 36th birth­day with a med­i­cal his­tory that in­cludes mul­ti­ple neck surg­eries. Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner Robert Grif­fin III (be­low), mean­while, draws raves from NFL in­sid­ers for his arm and his legs.


Jackie Joyner-kersee, who claimed six Olympic medals, was named the great­est fe­male ath­lete of the 20th cen­tury by Sports Il­lus­trated in 1999.

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