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Jackie Joyner-Kersee Champions Health

The glamourous  Jackie Joyner-Kerseeoff the track and away from the High bar on the lecture circuit

The glamourous Jackie Joyner-Kerseeoff the track and away from the High bar on the lecture circuit.

Olympian Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, widely regarded as the  “THE WORLD’S GREATEST FEMALE ATHLETE” named after Jacqueline Kennedy by her grandmother who prophesied, “Someday the girl will be the First Lady of something!” her grandmother exclaimed. An avid athlete in college, she would one day ascend the throne of greatness and don the crown of Olympic royalty. In a career that spanned two decades, she claimed the honors of excellence by posting over 20 records, redefining the heptathlon, and winning three Olympic medals. 

Her name is  synonymous with excellence, drive and winning. Voted “Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century” by Sports Illustrated for Women and one of ESPN’s “50 Greatest Athletes of All-Time,” Joyner-Kersee competed in four consecutive Olympics, winning three gold medals, one silver and two bronze. She is the first woman to win an Olympic Gold in the Long Jump.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee in her glory days

Jackie Joyner-Kersee in her glory days

All this she achieved as one who suffered with Asthma. Respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and bronchitis affect millions of Americans. Jackie’s athletically poised body beat out the  poorly functioning lungs of asthma that decreases oxygen flow to the rest of the body and compromises stamina, while increasing the risk of pneumonia and other potentially fatal lung diseases. Her commitment to perfecting her performance perhaps helped to save her life. She was an avid user of an inhaler.  

Jackie says, “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. But there were things I had to do to get it under control.”

Since her days as an athlete, Joyner-Kersee has accomplished much as a philanthropist and tireless advocate for children’s education and health issues including asthma, among other areas of interest.

So it’s significant to note that over her 20-year career, the track and field star’s meteoric rise showed no signs of slowing down, until severe knee pain set in.  It’s hard to imagine her reduced to the status of a normal person.  However the damage of pushing through the pain pass the pain to be the best at her sport paid its toll.


Back then Jackie said of her physical endurance, “Ask any athlete, we all hurt at times. I’m asking my body to go through seven different tasks. To ask it not to ache would be too much.”

Today she says, “Throughout your athletic career as an athlete you don’t think you should get injured, but you do and you deal with chronic pain constantly and you work to still try to get to the top,” she continued, “Post my athletic career, some of the chronic pain that I was dealing with still linger on with me.”

Training as an Olympic level for so many years took a drastic toll on her body and like millions of other people dealing with chronic pain, Joyner-Kersee’s healthcare provider prescribed opioid medication.

Known by more common names like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, opioid pain relievers suppress the body’s perception of pain. As with any drug or medication, there are potential side effects, and in having an “uncomfortable” conversation with her doctor, Joyner-Kersee learned she was experiencing one of the most common and perhaps most embarrassing side effect of opioid use: opioid-induced constipation (OIC).

“OIC is not your normal type of constipation,” she shares and to help bring awareness to this condition, Joyner-Kersee has partnered with AstraZeneca to help others who may be living with this condition and feel alone.


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