Darieana Hunter and Brandyn Robinson took the stage for an exclusive interview with six-time olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee at the Diversity and Inclusion Conference on Feb. 26. Few seats remained in the Luhr Building as Joyner-Kersee sat with the two athletes to talk about her storied career in track and field and basketball.
Robinson and Hunter were selected by their coaches to represent the sports Joyner-Kersee played in college and as an Olympic athlete. Robinson, a senior Gorlok sprinter, said he felt nervous the night before the conference.
“I had almost a restless night,” Robinson said. “But it was nothing I wasn’t used to. Being a track athlete meant hundreds of eyes on you already.”
Joyner-Kersee holds three gold, one silver and two bronze medals from four different olympic games. Sports Illustrated named her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.
Robinson said Joyner-Kersee gave an important message about not giving up and believing in yourself. The Gorlok athletes asked Joyner-Kersee a series of questions about her olympic career and life after athletics.
Joyner-Kersee overcame adversity as a black female athlete in the Olympics. She told the story of an East St. Louis native who never gave up on her dream.
Hunter, a sophomore forward on the women’s basketball team, shot jokes at Joyner-Kersee like she was an old coach of hers. They had only met that morning just before the interview.
“I’ll be ready for you,” Hunter joked to Joyner-Kersee, talking about her basketball career.
Hunter said she was eager to hear Joyner-Kersee’s story of being a famous black female athlete. A black female herself, Hunter said Joyner-Kersee impressed her with her career on and off the field.
Joyner-Kersee founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in East St. Louis. The foundation serves East St. Louis youth with academic and athletic programs.
Hunter said she wanted to follow in Joyner-Kersee’s footsteps by combining athletics with making a difference in the community.
“I want to take it more than sports,” Hunter said. “I want to do something in that sense of just bringing awareness and helping others.”
Hunter created Black History Month t-shirts that both basketball teams wore on Feb. 16 at a home game. Hunter presented one of the shirts to Joyner-Kersee as a gift during the interview.
Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon said the initial idea was to have one athlete interview Joyner-Kersee. Her accomplishments in basketball are often overlooked, Kilgallon said, so he asked for a basketball player along with a track and field athlete.
Kilgallon said Hunter and Robinson made the session a productive conversation rather than a formal speech.
“They’re not going to forget that the rest of their lives,” Kilgallon said.
Kilgallon asked Head Women’s Basketball Coach Jordan Olufson and Head Track and Field Coach Nick Niehaus to pick someone to interview Joyner-Kersee. Kilgallon said after looking back he probably would have picked Hunter and Robinson anyway.
The two Gorlok athletes chatted with Joyner-Kersee on stage for almost an hour. The three filled the hour with serious moments but also laughs.
Kilgallon said the hour-long session went exactly as he expected.
“There’s much more connection anytime we talk with students,” Kilgallon said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
the team put into this exclusive season. Even so, he said the team had plenty to be proud of, and plenty to work at in the meantime.
“Next year, we expect to have a better year since everyone is coming back,” Macias said. “That isn’t always guaranteed, so we have to work harder to have an even better season.”
If the Gorloks needed any more convincing on the potential of next season, they can look at the 2018-19 All-SLIAC selections, which included two Gorloks (Johnson and Wilcox) as first-team picks, Tankins as a second-team pick, and Etienne as a third-team pick. Bunch was also named as the SLIAC Coach of the Year for the fifth time in his coaching career.