Like other 50-year-olds, Jackie Joyner-Kersee aches a bit the day after a vigorous workout. And she has noticed that her vision isn’t what it once was.
But Joyner-Kersee, one of the most accomplished and gracious female athletes in history, isn’t pining away for her Olympic-gold-medal glory days. Instead, she lives by the motto “fit for life” and spends her time working for humanitarian and philanthropic causes, including mentoring young people and families in her hometown of East St. Louis, Ill.
On Sunday, she'll be the keynote speaker for the American Cancer Society's (ACS) 41st annual Walk and Roll event starting at Chicago's Soldier Field, in which participants, walk, skate or bike a designated route. (In May, Walk and Roll events will be held in Elgin, Libertyville and Olney City Park.)
Joyner-Kersee won't be doing the Chicago event -- but if she did, she'd walk at a 15-minute-per-mile pace instead of skating or biking. She also wouldn't be surprised if people tried to pass her. "I have no problem with this because I gave it my all when I trained and competed," she said. "I'm always challenged by someone."
We recently chatted with Joyner-Kersee, who still holds the world record in the women’s heptathlon, about her budding interest in Zumba, why her husband always had the last word on the track and the one skill that helped her as both an athlete and a student.
Q: Why did you agree to keynote the fundraising event for cancer?
A: I'm in a position where I can blend my name and credibility; hopefully people coming to the event will pick up the literature about the services the ACS provides and it will help someone who might not have known about everything they offer. It all goes hand in hand with helping motivate people. We all have different things we struggle with and when you have a peer group who can help boost morale (in the fight against cancer) it makes a difference, the same way it does in an athlete.
Q: How has your perspective on fitness changed as you've aged?
A: I'm a realist and I always have been. Quality training is what I do now; before it was a combination of both quality and quantity. Now I'm not trying to be a world-class athlete, I don't need to train at that level. It's about being fit, fit for life. If I can only get in an hour (of a workout per day), sometimes it's disturbing, but it's better than nothing. If I can go longer, I try.
Q: What's a typical workout for you now?
A: I try to get a 4-mile walk in-- which should take about an hour -- then do some weight lifting. I like doing 200-meter intervals on the track, a circuit in the weight room or anything dealing with cardio or pumping the heart. It's also just good to change things up. I've been accustomed to running, jumping and throwing and I can do technical work to isolate the shoulders, upper body or lower body. But I can also incorporate things that my friends who want to be in shape can also do.
Q: Such as?
A: I might attempt Zumba. I haven't yet but I thought it would be a lot of fun and different.
Q: Do you ever play basketball?
A: I really do miss playing basketball. I don't play a lot of pick-up games. But I do like using basketball as a form of cross training.
Q: Do you still do airplane workouts?
A: People thought we were crazy (doing workouts created by husband and coach Bob Kersee.) We'd have rubber tubing and work on shoulder rotation and hip movement and find different ways to stretch out, especially on long flights. On the airplane, I'd get up every 30 to 45 minutes to walk through the aisles to keep my hamstrings and hip flexors loose. But now it's tough because everyone knows me. I don't want them to think I'm trying to be seen. But in my seat I'm always stretching my shoulders and I still get up and walk to the bathroom a lot.
Q: What were some challenges of being coached by your husband?
A: For me, living it every day, it wasn't a challenge. It was only a challenge for the people on the outside looking in. We're going to disagree, but it's over mechanics or pace or a different philosophy. But when all was said and done, he always had last say so on the track.
Q: He did?
A: He was the coach, and to be the best you have to be coachable. He was always my eyes; he saw what I couldn't see. Bobby's philosophy was that those who know the "why" could always beat those who know "how." If you don't understand something, ask why. Know the purpose.
Q: What about at home?
A: A disagreement would be if we went home and his job was to take out the trash and he didn't do it. You have to have a balance.
Q: You're a well known ambassador. Would you ever consider an administrative post, such as with the United States Olympic Committee?
A: I never say never. I'm more of a hands-on person. I like working with young people from the standpoint of providing support for the grassroots programs. State, national and Olympic champions begin at a grassroots level.
Q: Why did you return to the St. Louis area?
A: It's important for young people to sit right across from me and look right in my eye and know I'm there. In the programs we built, we ask how we can continue to motivate them to be successful in life and how they can go on and impact others.
Q: What skill has helped you most in life?
A: I learned to listen and listen very well. It helped me athletically and in the classroom as well. The person who talks a lot or talks over people misses out because they weren't listening.
Q: How resourceful are today's kids when it comes to physical activity?
A: When I was coming through school we'd create games on the playground that didn't have a name. We'd be creative in our mindset and creative in our activities. From that you'd start playing tag or set marks up and play jacks or jump rope. Now some people don't even know term "jumping jacks" --they confuse it with (the Rolling Stones song) "Jumpin' Jack Flash." It's important that we continue to give our kids that have the freedom. It's still up to us to show them the way. They think you're old and don't know anything, but keep showing them. I tell them, "Remember, I may be old, but you're trying to get where I am."
Q: Have you noticed other differences?
A: Today, the best (most athletic) kids are put in select activities. Suddenly those kids lose interest, and by time they’re 15 don't want to do sports at all. Life is so organized and structured. I do believe in structure but as a way of having fun.
Q: What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
A: To be respectful to others and not let anyone take me for granted. Listen to myself and others before I speak. Give back in some way. Always be thoughtful of others.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times