Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born on March 3, 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois. She became world known as one of the greatest female athletes. The winner of six Olympic medals, three of them gold, a record-holder in both the multi-event heptathlon (the female version of the decathlon) and the long jump, and a world-class basketball player, these accomplishments and the example of her life make her a hero, a humanitarian, a symbol of strength and courage, an overcomer, an achiever, and a role model.
She was one of four children born to Al and Mary Joyner. Although she suffered from asthma, she was an active child who joined her high school's track team and did well at the long jump. She also excelled at basketball, which got her noticed enough to receive a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. There, she met coach Bob Kersee who had a huge impact on her sports career and personal life (she ended up marrying him in 1986). She won the NCAA heptathlon two years in a row, as well as the 1982 USA championship. She graduated from UCLA in the top ten percent of her class with a major in history.
Joyner-Kersee won the heptathlon in Moscow's 1986 Goodwill Games, setting the world record of 7,148 points for that event. She also won the Jesse Owens Award for outstanding performance in track and field that same year (and again in 1987). In 1987, she tied the world record of 24 feet 5 1/2 inches in the long jump at the World Championships in Rome. She began battling her asthma again, having to take the banned steroid prednisone as prescribed by her doctors for short periods of time. Since she could not take the drug around the times of her competitions, her condition grew worse over the years, forcing her to sometimes compete with an allergen-filtering mask. Despite this, she continued to break records.
In 1988's Olympic Games she took the gold in both the heptathlon and long jump, and tied the U.S. record for 100-meter hurdles. She battled injuries to her right hamstring throughout her career, working her way back to being healthy. She took the gold for the heptathlon and the bronze for the long jump at the Olympic Games at Barcelona in 1992. She won the bronze in the long jump in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Joyner-Kersee renewed her love affair with basketball, joining the Richmond, Virginia, Rage and playing in the newly formed American Basketball League for women.
Her performance at the 1998 Goodwill Games held in New York City would signal Joyner-Kersee's retirement from athletic competition. Ending the two-day, seven-event heptathlon with an outstanding performance in the 800-meters, she took the title with 7,291 points, breaking her own world's record set in 1986. Her Goodwill victory was Joyner-Kersee's 25th win out of the 36 multi-event competitions she had entered during her career. Sports Illustrated voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.
Joyner-Kersee continues to work to encourage young people to improve their lives, largely through her work with the Joyner-Kersee Boys and Girls Club in East St. Louis.