This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Jackie Joyner-Kersee, UH junior sprinter/hurdler Seun Adigun’s role model.
The death of a beloved parent would be enough to shut most people down, but Jackie Joyner-Kersee used the love, strength and pride her mother instilled in her to achieve greatness.
After her mother’s death, she returned to UCLA and became the starting forward for the Bruins women’s basketball team and competed with the track team as a long jumper.
Joyner-Kersee set her sights on the heptathlon, where athletes earn points by running a 20-meter dash, completing both high and long jumps, throwing the javelin and shot-put, running 100-meter hurdles and finishing an 800-meter run in just two days.
Her heart, spirit and athletic ability led her to be a role model to many young female athletes.
"You could see that she loved everything she did and that she invested every ounce of strength she had in it," soccer star Mia Hamm, who was 12 during the 1984 Olympics in which Joyner-Kersee competed, told Sports Illustrated for Women. "You saw her and you got the idea of what a woman athlete should be. At the time it seemed almost like she wasn’t responsible for just her sport, but for all of women’s sport."
UH junior hurdler Seun Adigun is another athlete Joyner-Kersee inspired.
"She grew up in my home state, Illinois, although she is not originally from Chicago," Adigun said. "I met her my freshman year in high school, and she was just a joy to talk to."
The meeting left a lasting impression on the young athlete because Adigun saw what she could become.
"Throughout my high school track career I was able to see her and speak with her before a few of my races and at the state track meet," Adigun said. "I really admired the fact that she was such a personable, motivating and friendly woman."I feel like we share a lot of similarities, from the fact that we both grew up playing basketball, to our fun and energetic personalities," she said.
Joyner-Kersee decided she would retire from track and field after the 1998 Goodwill Games, but changed her mind in 2000, and tried to make her fifth Olympic team. She fell short, finishing sixth in the long jump at the Olympic trial finals.
Joyner-Kersee made her retirement official in February of 2001 at age 38. Rather than glancing behind at past triumphs, she is seeking new challenges.
She left track behind, but her work was not finished. Now was her chance to give back to the community that had given so much to her.