Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame who is widely regarded as the best all-around female athlete in the world. In four consecutive Olympic games from 1984 to 1996, she won three Gold, one Silver, and two Bronze medals in track and field events. She once held the six highest scores in the world for the Olympic heptathalon and has held the heptathalon world record for the last twenty years. According to family legend, Jackie was named after First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy because her grandmother wanted her to be "first lady of something." She was born in East St. Louis, Illinois on March 3, 1962. Her parents struggled to provide a warm and safe home in a very tough neighborhood.
At the age of ten in 1972, Jackie started in an atheletics program at the Mary E. Brown Community Center in East St. Louis where she started to train for track and field events. Jackie acknowledged in an autobiography that some of her elders considered track to be "unfeminine" in the early 1970s. But Jackie rejected this sterotype. She wrote, "I see elegance and beauty in every female athlete. I don't think being an athlete is unfeminine. I think of it as a kind of grace."
At the age of 14 during her freshman year of high school, Jackie won the first of four Junior National Championships in the civilian pentathlon events consisting of the 100 meter hurdles, the high jump, long jump, shot put, and the 800 meter run. At Lincoln High School, she set the Illinois high school state record for the long jump and averaged 52 point per game playing varsity basketball. Her basketball skill was enough to win her a basketball scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1980. Although she wanted to try for the Olympic team in 1980, world politics and war intervened. The U.S. and most western nations boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The USSR and its allies in turn boycotted the 1984 games in Los Angeles but there was a much larger world participation in the latter games.
In 1986, Jackie married her UCLA coach, Bob Kersee. She finally did travel to Moscow for the first Goodwill Games where she was the first woman to break 7,000 points in heptathlon events. She also competed in the 1987 Pan American Games. Jackie is a sister-in-law to Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner who is married to Jackie's brother Al Joyner.
Jackie continues to have a primary residence in East St. Louis today. In 1986, she learned that the Mary E. Brown Community Center that was so important to her youth was closing. She started the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Gold Medal Scholarship that later became the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and Community Center. The Foundation raised $12 million to build the new youth and athletics center on a 37-acre site near Interstate 64 and Kenneth Hall Park near East St. Louis. Kenneth Hall was a respected Illinois State Senator in the early 1980s. The center officially opened on March 1, 2000. Jackie remains committed to helping the young people of her hometown of East St. Louis. In many ways big and small, Jackie has used her fame and celebrity to help raise money for youth projects in her home state of Illinois.