Like other 50-year-olds, Jackie Joyner-Kersee aches a bit the day after a vigorous workout. And she's noticed that her vision isn't what it once was.
But Joyner-Kersee, who still holds the world record in the women's heptathlon, isn't pining for her Olympic glory days. Instead, she lives by the motto "fit for life" and spends her time working for humanitarian and philanthropic causes, including mentoring young people and families in her hometown, East St. Louis, Ill.
We recently caught up with Joyner-Kersee. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Question: How has your perspective on fitness changed as you've aged?
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Answer: I'm a realist and I always have been. Quality training is what I do now; before it was a combination of both quality and quantity. Now I'm not trying to be a world-class athlete; I don't need to train at that level. It's about being fit, fit for life. If I can only get in an hour (of a workout per day), sometimes it's disturbing, but it's better than nothing. If I can go longer, I try.
Q: Do you have any issues with osteoporosis or related problems due to the impact of training earlier in life?
A: I have normal soreness but nothing related to running or being active at a young age.
Q: What's your typical workout now?
A: I try to get a four-mile walk in — which should take about an hour — then do some weight lifting. I like doing 200-meter intervals on the track, a circuit in the weight room or anything dealing with cardio or pumping the heart. But I can also incorporate things that my friends who want to be in shape can also do. I might attempt Zumba. I haven't yet, but I thought it would be a lot of fun and different.
Q: What were some challenges of being coached by your husband, Bob Kersee?
A: For me, living it every day, it wasn't a challenge. It was only a challenge for the people on the outside looking in. We're going to disagree, but it's over mechanics or pace or a different philosophy. But when all was said and done, he always had last say-so on the track. He was the coach, and to be the best, you have to be coachable. He was always my eyes; he saw what I couldn't see. Bobby's philosophy was that those who know the "why" could always beat those who know "how." If you don't understand something, ask why. Know the purpose.
Q: You're a well-known ambassador. Would you ever consider an administrative post, such as with the United States Olympic Committee?
A: I never say never. I'm more of a hands-on person. I like working with young people from the standpoint of providing support for the grass-roots programs. State, national and Olympic champions begin at a grass-roots level.
Q: Why return to East St. Louis?
A: It's important for young people to sit right across from me and look right in my eye and know I'm there. In the programs we built, we ask how we can continue to motivate them to be successful in life and how they can go on and impact others.
Q: What has helped you most in life?
A: I learned to listen and listen very well. It helped me athletically and in the classroom as well. The person who talks a lot or talks over people misses out because they weren't listening.
Q: Advice for your 16-year-old self?
A: To be respectful to others and not let anyone take me for granted. Give back in some way. Always be thoughtful of others.