East St. Louis native Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one of the nation’s premier athletes, with 6 Olympic medals to her name. Sports Illustrated named her the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century and tomorrow she will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
These days, she focuses most of her energy on promoting fitness among young people through the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and her work as a spokesperson for the St. Louis Public Schools' AIM for Fitness Project.
She’s also involved with Run, Jump, Throw, a new program sponsored by Hershey and USA Track and Field designed to encourage physical activity among kids 7 to 12.
“What I am seeing is that with physical education being cut, and recess and lack of activity, is that there is a need. And that is one of the great things about USA Track and Field and the collaboration with Hershey doing the Run, Jump and Throw program,” said Joyner-Kersee.
She sees recess as important because it gives kids time to play in a relaxed environment that fosters creativity and leadership.
Despite the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity, Joyner-Kersee is optimistic about the possibility of getting kids active.
“I’m more of a motivator, and I never look down on anyone. I always think that there is hope,” she said. “I still believe we can be active as a nation, as a family.”
She encourages kids to try things outside of their comfort zone, but also tries to meet kids where they are. If they’re not comfortable running, they can try walking first, for example.
“You’re going to have some that are going to challenge you, but then you challenge them back,” said Joyner-Kersee.
The key, she added, is getting them to try instead of putting up a wall.