She focused

By Keisha Bell

Have you ever taken some time to reflect upon your life and thought: “WOW! How did I make it through all of that?”

After all, the statistics said you were doomed to fail. Naysayers seemed to be on every other block. Attempting to achieve success at times left you only with: “At least I tried.”

How did she make it through all of that? She focused.

Meet Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, a track and field Olympian. In total, she won three gold, one silver and two bronze Olympic medals in the heptathlon and long jump. During the 1986 Goodwill Games, Joyner-Kersee was the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event.

Continuing to make history, in the 1988 Summer Olympics Joyner-Kersee set the still-standing heptathlon world record of 7,291 points. There she also became the first American woman to earn a gold medal in the long jump, as well as the first American woman to win a gold medal in the heptathlon.

Joyner-Kersee was born March 3, 1962, in East Saint Louis, Ill. Like so many other cities in the 1960s, East Saint Louis had become significantly and adversely impacted by violence, a poor economy and the construction of freeways that broke up neighborhoods and well-functioning community networks. East Saint Louis continues to rebound.

As a high school athlete, Joyner-Kersee qualified for the finals in the long jump at the 1979 Olympic Trials. She attended the University of California at Los Angeles where she was a star student-athlete, participating in track and field and in basketball. After graduation and in addition to being an international track and field athlete, she played pro basketball for the then American Basketball League’s Richmond Rage team.

Overcoming numerous obstacles, Joyner-Kersee went on to be voted “the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time” by “Sports Illustrated for Women” magazine. Currently, she is on the board of directors for USA Track and Field.

Having seen the world and received numerous awards and acknowledgments, Joyner-Kersee maintained her desire to help others. She is an active philanthropist in the areas of racial equality, women’s rights, and education.

In 1988, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation. Through it and in 2011, she partnered with Comcast and created the Internet Essentials program, which provides low-cost laptops and high-speed internet service to low-income Americans for a small monthly fee.

Similarly, in 2008 she co-founded the Athletes for Hope with a number of other well-known athletes. It is a charitable organization of professional athletes who get involved in philanthropic causes while at the same time operate to inspire non-athletes to support their communities via volunteering. Joyner-Kersee also works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Foundation to promote the availability and consumption of healthy foods by Americans.

Who would have thought that a young girl, born in East Saint Louis, Ill., would accomplish all that this woman has?

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

She did.


She focused.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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