January 21, 2011

Joyner-Kersee Dares US Lacrosse Convention Crowd to Dream

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Convention Blog

"You have a passion for the game of lacrosse. It's important to teach each individual to respect themselves, respect their opponents, and repsect the game," keynote speaker Jackie Joyner-Kersee told US Lacrosse National Convention attendees. "As you continue to grow your game, remember, character is so important."

BALTIMORE -- The keynote speech of the 2011 US Lacrosse Convention began and ended with a standing ovation. That's how excited the lacrosse world was to hear from Olympic track and field great Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Joyner-Kersee, who was named female athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, spoke to several thousand attendees at the Baltimore Convention Center on opening night of US Lacrosse's largest annual event. She focused her remarks on the idea of dreams, and how she had to develop mental toughness required to win seven Olympic medals, including back-to-back gold in the heptathalon in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

The crowd laughed when Joyner-Kersee admitted to coming in last in her first race at the age of 9, and how her original motivation from moving from the bottom of the pack to the top was only because she wanted to run on the relay team with her friends. But her humble athletic beginnings led to a powerful work ethic that lifted her to new heights, both within her sport and in popular culture at large.

"Why are you finding a reason not to get it done?" Joyner-Kersee asked the crowd rhetorically.

Joyner-Kersee recounted her experience at the 1984 Olympics, where she finished second to Australian Glynis Nunn. Joyner-Kersee pulled her hamstring four weeks before the event and despite a physical therapist's promises that she'd be fine by the starting whistle, she went into competition with a mental block and competed poorly. She didn't mind losing to Nunn; she did mind having given it less than her best.

"After that, I told myself 'I will be the toughest mentally.' The talent is a gift, but I can make myself mentally tough," said Joyner-Kersee, who won gold in the next two Olympics.

She also spoke to the importance of passion and teamwork, crediting her coaches, physical therapists and teammates for her success.

"You have a passion for the game of lacrosse. It's important to teach each individual to respect themselves, respect their opponents, and repsect the game. As you continue to grow your game, remember, character is so important," she said.

Folllowing her prepared remarks, Joyner-Kersee opened up the floor to questions. They ranged from her workout routine (she likes to run indoors on a treadmill during the winter) to her current dreams (she wants to build up the community center she has established in her hometown of East St. Louis).

Bryant women's lacrosse head coach Karen Healy had a particularly poignant query that has reverberated through many sessions at the convention -- communicating across the generation gap. Healy grew up idolizing Joyner-Kersee, and was recently surprised to learn that her current players couldn't name female athletic role models that they admired. Joyner-Kersee said that she admires young track and field athletes Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards, Marshevet Hooker and Dawn Harper, and spoke to Healy's larger point regarding intergenerational communication.

"Girls in particular are good at saying what they think you want to hear. I work with girls at the community center and we'll talk about goals, and they'll say they want to be doctors and lawyers and such, and I'm surprised that none of them say, 'I want to be state champion.' Or they'll say 'I want to be the next Beyonce' without really anything to back it up," said Joyner-Kersee. "You've got to be willing to work."


The keynote speech was preceeded by remarks from US Lacrosse president Steve Stenersen, welcoming convention attendees and lauding the growth the event and the organization at large... Stenersen also recognized the 2010 U.S. men's national team for its FIL gold medal finish in this summer's FIL World Championships. The team was represented by Kyle Dixon, Alex Smith, Shawn Nadalen, Matt Striebel and assistant coach Rick Sowell.

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