One of the coolest ways to teach children about history and make the point that ordinary people can do extraordinary things is through cartoons.
So it comes as no surprise that six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee received the animated treatment for the first time ever thanks to a popular PBS series.
In PBS’ Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, Xavier, his sister Yadina and their fellow animated friends are famous for taking on problems and using the museum to solve them. The museum is their personal DeLorean of sorts, allowing them to time travel and meet historical baddies back when they were kids. The series, which is based on Brad Meltzer’s New York Times-bestselling children’s book series, Ordinary People Change the World, will turn its animated lens to Kersee’s story in its one-hour special, I Am Madam President.
“While we haven’t had a female president, we gain something from women. We gain their strength and leadership when they make our communities and our country better,” Kersee tells ESSENCE earlier this month between bites of strawberries at New York City’s Regency Bar & Grill.
Like the rest of us, young Yadina is disappointed that America has never had a woman run things in the Oval Office. But she learns from trailblazers like astronaut Sally Ride, pilot Amelia Earhart, mountaineer Junko Tabei and track and field champion Kersee that just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it cannot be done.
“Yadina also finds out more about the Olympics and the heptathlon. She sees me go through each event and starts to understand what it takes for me to be a champion,” Kersee said, flashing that famous mega-watt smile. “Yadina is there in spirit, pushing me.”
And Yadina doesn’t always see Kersee when she’s killin’ it. “[There’s a scene] when the javelin gave me problems and then I don’t run the 800 meters so good,” Kersee said with a chuckle. Today, the woman who started running track at age 9 laughs freely at how that javelin missed its mark. Kersee knew it wasn’t the end of the world. “Each of the seven events calculates to points, so no matter where you finish, it’s very important that you finish,” she said.
Out of the seven events, Kersee’s least favorite was the high jump and her favorite was the long jump. The Saint Louis native’s 1994 Olympic long jump remains the second highest in history. And Kersee is the first woman in history to earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon—a title she still holds more than 20 years later.
For Kersee, who is passionate about empowering the youth, especially young women, it isn’t about putting numbers on a scoreboard. She wants them to “win at life.” The woman Sports Illustrated dubbed The Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century believes there is a social and emotional wellbeing needed to dominate in any field. And it starts with learning to be teachable, accountable and confident.
I knew the work I was doing was paying off.
The world champion knows of what she speaks. Back in elementary school, Kersee wasn’t one of the fastest girls and she often finished last.
“But I learned to set goals for myself, not knowing that I was setting goals,” Kersee said. “If I could improve by a tenth a of second running or half an inch jumping, then I knew the work I was doing was paying off.”
Watch Jackie Joyner-Kersee in Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum: I Am Madam President when it premieres on PBS tonight.Share :