Jackie Joyner-Kersee grew up in a "shotgun" house in a poor neighborhood in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her family didn't have much, but she realized her dreams with the love and support of her parents and community, the Olympic gold medalist told Macon students Thursday morning.
The track-and-field star spoke to seniors and athletes at Northeast High School, reminding them that education comes first and winning goes beyond the athletic field. She visited Central High School later that afternoon.
Joyner-Kersee won six Olympic medals during her track-and-field career. She took silver in the heptathlon — an event that consists of the 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter run, 800-meter run, long jump, high jump, javelin throw and shot put — in the 1984 Olympics and gold in 1988 and 1992. In the long jump event, she won gold in 1988 and bronze in 1992 and 1996.
The heptathlon world record she set in 1988 still stands, and Sports Illustrated named her the greatest female athlete of all time. Today, Joyner-Kersee is a philanthropist and public speaker.
"You are here for a reason, but it's left up to you to decide where your journey will take you," she told the Northeast students. "I believe that great people can do great things. Be committed to greatness. You decide. You write your story."
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Georgia and Bibb County GEAR UP sponsored the school programs. Joyner-Kersee, a former Boys and Girls Club member who founded a club in her hometown, planned to attend the Boys and Girls Club of Central Georgia's Youth of the Year Celebration on Thursday night.
"She's a real champion for young people," said Marvin Laster, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Albany. "She still advocates for young people, especially high-schoolers and those who come from underprivileged circumstances."
Joyner-Kersee said she wants her work in the community to be her legacy. She hoped that her visit to Macon would inspire students to stay committed to their dreams, work hard and have fun pursuing their goals.
"The least I can do is to give of my time, and all of us have time to give. That time that you share with someone can change their life," she said. "I look at the struggles that our young people are facing in today's time, dealing with a lot of things that I didn't have to deal with when I was coming up. But, there's still a sense of home or a protection. You'll find it in school. You'll find people that are just trying to help you continue on your own path and just trying to (help you) be the best that you can be."