I wonder who first influenced a young Jackie Joyner to put on her first pair of running shoes and take those first few steps on the track. As you know, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one of the greatest athletes of our time, and perhaps the greatest female athlete ever. I remember when I was in high school watching the girl's state basketball championships on TV and seeing this girl from East St. Louis high school dominate the competition. Years later I watched, along with the rest of the world as she competed in the Olympics, setting world records and winning millions of fans.
So it was really a nice opportunity the other night for me and my good friend Amy Jacobson (from ch. 5) to emcee the Girls on the Run gala. It's a fundraiser for the organization that encourages young girls to get into running to help their self-esteem. The main honoree that night was none other than Jackie Joyner-Kersee, for her great athletic legacy, and the work she continues to do through her foundation to help young girls.
I've talked about this before, but it's really something that means a lot more to me now that I have two daughters. I know right now, at the ages of one and two, their mother and I are their primary role models. It's one of the cutest things I can imagine when I'm dressed to go for a run, and heading out the door, and my two year old will say, "Daddy running!". She will also try it herself, saying, "go, go, go" and pumping her little arms and legs while she sprints a good 25 yards or so at a time. Some of their earliest memories as they grow up will undoubtedly involve going to races on weekends with their parents.
I don't care whether my daughters grow up to be runners. My wife and I hope they grow up with sports as part of their lives, because we think it helps teach some valuable principles, like teamwork, goal-setting, and sportsmanship. Girls on the Run is not about coaching girls into becoming future Olympic champions either. They encourage girls to run with the goal of completing a 5k race. This helps their self-esteem, and teaches them that they can accomplish an athletic goal most never thought possible.
Most boys grow up with lots of encouragement to go into sports, and lots of role models. I had plenty of athletes and coaches to look up to, and get advice from when I was growing up. That includes people from a number of sports. Some of them I keep in touch with to this day, and, my former high school track coach remains one of my running partners. I am tremendously grateful to all the role models I have had in sports.
Womens sports have made tremendous strides in the last decade or so. Society, however, still has a ways to go when it comes to encouraging girls to get into athletics. For every Mia Hamm out there, there are lots more Brittney Spears. Thank goodness someone helped a young Jackie Joyner-Kersee get into those first running shoes of hers.
See you on the roads.