Jackie Joyner-Kersee is in Jerusalem as a part of U.S. government initiatives to assist in creating a future of sustained peace and opportunities in the region as a part of the U.S. Department of State’s inaugural Track & Field Sports Envoy program. The program gives her the opportunity to share the sport that changed her life with women and girls around the world. She is hosting clinics and other activities to show them the lifelong opportunities available through sports. Follow along with her journey.
Wednesday, April 16
Today, I had the opportunity to work with over 100 Palestinian girls. They were eager to learn all I could teach them. I was moved by their enthusiasm and how quickly they adapted to the running drills I was teaching. Most of the girls participated in sport(s) but it was the students looking from the classroom I was impressed with as well.
I realized in this brief moment that running energizes us and brings us all together. The students who couldn't participate, because they weren't on one of school’s sports teams, wanted so desperately to join in. It was a beautiful sight to see young girls looking on wanting to do the sport I love so dearly.
No matter where I go, we all want the same things, including better facilities. In the West Bank they don't have any track facilities or a place where the students can see what a track looks like. How can these young people aspire to want to run, jump or throw? I was constantly asked if an exchange could take place where they could send over young people to the United States where some of their students, coaches and teachers could learn from us. What a great idea!
Monday, April 14
Our first day in Jerusalem began around 8 a.m., as we prepared to visit two schools. It was challenging but in a great way.
The first stop was an all-girls school called Rosary Sisters School, where all the students are Palestinian. There were about 85 total 10th graders there, and they were all eager to learn more about running.
I enjoyed being able to share my love for our sport, track & field, as they asked many thoughtful questions. We able to create an early bond, and some of the girls even pulled me aside to privately share some of their concerns. As I prepared to leave, the students shared with me how I motivated them, and they asked how could they stay in touch. In the end, I realized that we all wanted very similar things out of life.
The second school we visited was a two-year English Access language school, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State. In this setting, there were both boys and girls, and we had very similar conversations about being active, whether through running or walking. Despite getting the sense that running isn’t encouraged, I always found myself being positive in my approach. One teacher commented that one challenge was the time schedule. After continued conversation with the instructor, I learned that she had two jobs and was feeling overwhelmed. I listened to all of her concerns and gave her a positive point of view. She said that I motivated her to work on changing her attitude, which I would call a success!
I suggested they could start a walking program at the school, and the teachers and students thought it was a great idea! I’m hoping this might be the first step toward changing behavior and incorporating walking or running challenges into their daily activities. It’s difficult for them to set aside extra time, but most are walking to school anyway. I mentioned they could use a stopwatch as a guide to motivate and challenge themselves to improve their walking times over the same distances every day.