Today, March 3rd, 2014 marks the 52nd birthday of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a woman most people should know. Considered one of the world’s greatest athletes (female or otherwise), Jackie is a 6 time Olympic medalist (winning 3 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze medals in 4 Olympic games) and STILL holds the World Heptathlon Record she set in 1988. But did you know that this athletic super woman also suffered from severe asthma?

According to the National Library of Medicine, while Jackie was a top student-athlete at UCLA in the early 1980s, she was diagnosed with asthma. She hid that fact from her coaches, afraid they would make her stop running.

“I was always told as a young girl that if you had asthma there was no way you could run, jump, or do the things I was doing athletically. So, I just knew it was impossible for me to have it. It took me a while to accept that I was asthmatic. It took me a while to even start taking my medication properly, to do the things that the doctor was asking me to do. I just didn’t want to believe that I was an asthmatic. But once I stopped living in denial, I got my asthma under control, and I realized that it is a disease that can be controlled.”

Jackie Joyner-Kersee_medalsDespite her asthma, Jackie developed into an elite athlete whose credentials are unquestionably among the best ever, in all of sport. The 6 time Olympic medalist, including 3 golds, dominated the Olympic heptathlon and long jump events throughout her career which spanned 4 Olympic Games. During that time, Jackie became the first woman in history to earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon.

Amazingly, even with all the advancements in technology and training used by athletes around the world over the last two decades, Jackie Joyner-Kersee still holds the World Heptathlon Record she set almost 26 years ago at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea… 7,291 points.

In addition to her unparalleled prowess in track, Jackie was also a basketball star while she was  at UCLA. Today, she is considered one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball history.

Seems about right that Sports Illustrated named this super woman The Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century.

In addition to her remarkable accomplishments on the field of competition, Jackie has defined her post-athletic career as a philanthropist, a dynamic public speaker, and a tireless advocate for children’s education, health issue, racial equality, social reform and women’s rights. In 1988, she established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation as the vehicle through which she provides youth, adults and families with the resources to improve their quality of life.

Happy Birthday Jackie Joyner-Kersee! Thank you for being a role model to women and girls everywhere.

jackie-joyner-kersee Sports illustrated