As Olympic icon Jackie Joyner-Kersee was announced as the recipient of the 2017 Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship, dozens of young people cheered in unison: “We love you, Jackie! We love you, Jackie! We love you, Jackie!”
The kids’ voices overpowered the band. The kids’ voices overpowered the booming voice of Musial Awards emcee and KSDK anchor Mike Bush as he welcomed Joyner-Kersee on stage. The kids’ voices overpowered the applause from the other 3,000 people inside the Peabody Opera House on Saturday night; many of whom had actually seen Joyner-Kersee run, jump and throw her way into Olympic immortality more than two decades ago.
When she took her seat on stage to begin the honoree interview with Bush, Joyner-Kersee replied to the kids, “I love you guys, too.” The cheers calmed. The kids were satisfied. She tells them she loves them daily, but every parent knows you have to feed your babies as often as they’re hungry. The awesome thing about love is that it fills you up as you give it to someone else.
Joyner-Kersee knows this. Her last competitive long jump was in 1996. None of the youngsters present were even thought of back then. Who knows how many of their parents had even met when Ms. Jackie took off in Atlanta? None of that matters, though. What matters is the obvious positive impact she’s had on their lives.
The first female Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship recipient is also the youngest and it appears kids do indeed keep you young. Joyner-Kersee’s megawatt smile and endless positive energy show no sign of burnout. She told Bush her foundation uses sports as a hook to help kids reach their goals in sports, academics or whatever they choose.
While there are sports programs aplenty, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation offers homework assistance along with STEM and reading comprehension classes. Joyner-Kersee will tell anyone who asks she answers to a higher power and operates with a greater purpose than the trophies and medals she owns.
Thousands of kids depend on Joyner-Kersee and know her namesake center as a home away from home. R&B legend Stephanie Mills sang, “When I think of home, I think of place, where there’s love overflowing.”
The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation is not an organization and the accompanying center is not a place. They are home, and a home made that way by Ms. Jackie. Which is to say, home is wherever she is. On Saturday night, the Peabody Opera House was home. And love was overflowing.