DeKALB – Northern Illinois track and field freshman A’Iesha Irvin-Muhammad has always been familiar with Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Irvin-Muhammad grew up in East St. Louis, which is where Joyner-Kersee, the legendary six-time Olympic track and field medalist, hails from.
Irvin-Muhammad, who will run sprints for the Huskies this spring, met Joyner-Kersee this past summer. She even got her start in track and field at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Center in East St. Louis.
Joyner-Kersee, who won two gold medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and another in Barcelona, Spain in 1992, is at NIU this week for her “Love & 4Giveness” project. She is speaking to NIU athletes, women’s student groups and the NIU community.
An open to the public event called “A Morning with Jackie Joyner-Kersee” will take place at 9 a.m. today inside the NIU Convocation Center.
“Meeting her personally and being able to talk with her has been a great honor,” Irvin-Muhammad said. “Her knowing me personally motivates me to keep going and hopefully one day be as great as she is.”
Joyner-Kersee has been working on her Love and 4Giveness project for two years. She and NIU track and field coach Connie Teaberry were teammates on the 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta, so it was easy for her to make a stop by DeKalb.
With the Love and 4Giveness program, Joyner-Kersee tells female athletes to appreciate their talent and not let anything hold them back. She wants them to forgive and move on and have a refuse-to-quit attitude.
“It’s loving the environment that you’re in, the people that are working with you,” Joyner-Kersee said. “But also understanding that in order to attain anything, you’ve got to work hard. Sometimes you might be mad at your coach because they’re pushing you to the end.
“For me, my husband (Bob Kersee) was my coach. It was a love-hate relationship all the time. But I love him, but I forgive him. But I also forgive myself because in order for me to be the best, these are the things that I need to do.”
Joyner-Kersee said women’s sports have been climbing steadily up the ladder since the 1996 Atlanta games.
Irvin-Muhammad said it means a lot to see Joyner-Kersee speaking to communities.
“She gives back. When she goes and tells her story, it motivates others to keep going and not give up,” Irvin-Muhammad said. “Especially being from East St. Louis, to know that you can make it out of East St. Louis.”