Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a native of East St. Louis, is widely considered among the greatest athletes of all time after winning multiple gold medals in the Olympics and setting a world record in the heptathlon in 1988 that still stands today.
But, speaking at an Olympic Day at Washington University June 22, Joyner-Kersee said that “what I stand for is not the gold medals. Those are materialistic. There is a reason I’m blessed. I put God first.”
Her comment drew applause from the children and adults who attended the program sponsored by the St. Louis Sports Commission. Joyner-Kersee and Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Steve Cash talked at an assembly followed by a run/walk on the track at Francis Field, site of the 1904 Olympics. Four other Olympians from the St. Louis area joined in the walk.
Clara Willers, who is going into the sixth grade at St. Margaret of Scotland School in south St. Louis, said she was glad to hear Joyner-Kersee’s remark and to meet her. “It was very inspiring and made me want to continue in sports,” said Clara, who runs track and plays soccer, basketball and volleyball. “It was nice to hear her say you have to understand yourself, and it’s not just all about running.”
Olympic Day sought to teach about the Olympic values — excellence, friendship and respect — and look at the contribution of sport to global social issues. Being a responsible citizen is also part of the philosophy of the Olympics.
Caleb Deschamp is a rising second-grader at McGrath Elementary School who plays baseball and soccer in CYC sports at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood and basketball elsewhere. He said he admires Cash for overcoming a disability and for his outstanding performance for Team USA. What he has learned from playing sports is to be nice to teammates and give no insults to opponents, Caleb said.
Cash, a goalie who won medals in the past four Paralympics, told of being diagnosed with bone cancer at age 3 and having his leg amputated. He uses the term “disabled” as an adjective, not to define someone, adding that the Paralympics demonstrated that “we’re a talented group of people.”
Later, he pointed to the Paralympic motto of “Spirit in Motion.” It holds true in sports, he said, and “as long as you have the spirit, the drive and a dream, it’s a recipe for success.”
Brendan Eppert, a member of the 1994 United States Olympic Speed Skating Team, attended St. Louis Cathedral School, St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis and St. Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. Now a physical education teacher at The St. Michael School of Clayton, he said he sought a calm feeling before competing, the same feeling he gets when entering the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Intimidated at first by his competitors, his goal of winning eventually took over, but not to the exclusion of his opponents. “I became a better sports person because I wanted other people around me to feel that same way,” Eppert said. He learned from the example of Canadian skater Jeremy Wotherspoon, who went out of his way to inspire other skaters.
John Carenza, a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic soccer team, said he had respect for his opponents, his teammates and his country. A former CYC athlete, he played at St. Mary’s High School and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
His faith was his foundation. “I felt a responsibility for the talent the Lord gave me and the mindset to perform at higher levels,” Carenza said. “I owe it to Him and the other people watching.”
Lori Chalupny, a Nerinx Hall High School graduate and Gold-medal soccer player from the 2008 Olympics, said she appreciates that the Olympics brings people together in the spirit of sportsmanship. As for faith and athletics, she said, “There’s always a bigger purpose to what you’re doing.”
Track Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee
• Be willing to work hard
• See coaches as valuable since they know technique
• If you are a great human being, you will do great things in life
• A smile can go a long way in life
Sled hockey Paralympian Steve Cash
• Listen to your parents
• Don’t use sticks as a weapon. It’s very dangerous
Ice dancing Olympian Dr. Stacey Smith
• Be inspired by those who come before you and inspire and mentor younger people
• Never strive just to defeat someone else, but insead bring increasing strength to your effort — may the best man or woman win. Be gracious in victory and in defeat. Celebrate with whoever wins
• Find the fun in it
• Be grateful
The Missouri-Illinois Alumni Chapter of the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians promotes and supports local youth sports programs, assists in training athletes, participates in charitable and educational activities and more. For information, visit www.mo-il-olympians.org.
>> CYC sports
The Catholic Youth Council sports program of the Catholic Youth Apostolate serves more than 65,000 youth and young adults each year in nine sports. The CYC accomplishes its mission through athletic programs designed to:
• Develop within participants an understanding of God’s continuing love for them and their value as an individual.
• Cultivate a spirit of trust and concern for others.
• Inspire a sense of respect for the rights and responsibilities of others as individuals and groups.
• Impart spiritual and moral values.
• Instill ethical standards of conduct.
• Encourage cooperation and team spirit.
• Empower youth and young adults to become active in the Church and community.
“Building Communities of Faith Through Sports” is the theme of a retreat-style CYC Sports Summit Saturday, July 28, at the Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury. Parents, coaches, parish volunteers, and priests are encouraged to attend. For more information or to register, visit www.cycstl.net/sportssummit or contact Jon Givens at firstname.lastname@example.org.