An Impoverished Beginning
Joyner-Kersee was born Jackie Joyner in 1962, the second child of two impoverished teenage parents, Alfred and Mary Joyner. Mary was 14 when her first child was born, and 16 when Joyner-Kersee was born. Alfred Joyner worked in construction and on the railroad, and Mary Joyner worked as a nurse's aid. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Kenny Moore wrote in Sports Illustrated, "Their house was little more than
wallpaper and sticks, with four tiny bedrooms. During the winters, when the hot-water pipes would freeze, they had to heat water for baths in kettles on the kitchen stove. Their great-grandmother … lived with them until she died on the plastic-covered sofa in the living room while Jackie was at the store buying milk."
Joyner-Kersee, who had been named Jackie by a grandmother who hoped she would grow up to be as influential as then-first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, swore that she would make something of herself and improve her life. Mary Joyner, who knew the difficulty of life as a teenage mother, did not let Joyner-Kersee or her brother Al date until they were 18 years old. Instead, she encouraged them to become involved in other activities.
Joyner-Kersee and Al grew up in East St. Louis and became involved in sports at the Mayor Brown Community Center there. She began running track there and, when she saw the 1976 Olympics on television, was inspired to try and become an Olympian too. Al encouraged her, and became her first competitor—and the first person she beat in a race.
Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldJackie Joyner-Kersee Biography - An Impoverished Beginning, First Pentathlon Win, Chronology, Competes In First Olympics, An Athlete Committed To Helping Others - SELECTED WRITINGS BY JOYNER-KERSEE: