A Born Competitor
Yolanda Gail Devers was born on November 19, 1966, in Seattle, Washington, although her family relocated to National City, California, a small town near San Diego. From an early age, Devers's brother, Parenthesis, would race Gail, always making fun of her when she lost. Devers decided that she did not want to lose anymore, and began training. She beat her brother in their next race. From that point, Devers steadily increased her competitive arena, moving from the neighborhood races against her brother to the races at Sweetwater High School.
Throughout school, Devers continued to improve, and her stellar performances helped the team win the San Diego sectional track and field team title. In 1984, her senior year at Sweetwater, Devers went to the state championships, where she won the 100-meter dash and 100-meter hurdles, and placed second in the long jump. All of these accomplishments attracted attention from major universities, who heavily courted Devers with offers of athletic scholarships. Devers chose the University of California at Los Angeles, where she trained under coach Bob Kersee, the future husband of fellow track star, Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Bob Kersee was the first coach who pushed Devers harder than she pushed herself, and his difficult training methods—which included entering Devers in six or seven track-and-field events in some meets—paid off. Devers advanced rapidly, even in events like the 100-meter hurdles, which she had always felt were out of her reach due to her small size.