It’s not every day you get to meet — let alone interview — someone whom Sports Illustrated for Women named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century. But that was the opportunity presented to Sue Troyan ’91G ’16P ’20P ’21P, deputy director of athletics. She talked with six-time Olympic medalist and Soaring Together Women’s Summit keynote speaker Jackie Joyner-Kersee in a fireside chat format in Baker Hall. 

During the talk, titled “How to Lead with Courage, Integrity, and Accountability,” Troyan asked Joyner-Kersee about the challenges and personal qualities that helped her become a world champion. A major theme was relationships, including the ones with coaches and women in her life who helped Joyner-Kersee learn that good things don’t come easy — she would have to be consistent, dedicated, level-headed, and work for it if she wanted to be the best.

Joyner-Kersee said role models such as Olympians Evelyn Ashford and Wilma Rudolph inspired her to believe she, too, could achieve lofty athletic goals, but that it was the often-strict parenting of her mother, who passed away when Joyner-Kersee was a freshman in college, that prepared her for life. Meaningful personal goals include graduating from UCLA, because her parents didn’t finish high school, and building a community center in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois, to ensure that children like she was get an opportunity to achieve greatness.

She’s used her platform as an athlete to better the world.

So what was it like chatting with a champion? We talked with Troyan about the experience.
What did you do to prepare for your conversation with Jackie Joyner-Kersee?
“I tried to go pretty deep into learning all about her — watching videos, reading stories about her so I had some background. Then we had the opportunity about two weeks before the summit to spend an hour talking on Zoom. It made the transition seamless when we went onstage together."

Were you nervous?
“Colleagues kept asking me that in the weeks leading up to the event. I was like, ‘No, why would I be nervous?’ Then about five minutes before we went onstage, I told Jackie that story and said, ‘Now I’m nervous!’ But Jackie is so easy to talk to, and she had so many great stories to tell about herself. It seemed like I was sitting at dinner with someone I’d known for 20 years.”
What do you think was the key takeaway from Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s talk? 
“Everything I heard her talk about came down to the importance of building relationships. I told Jackie that, and she agreed – the ability to communicate is the ability to build relationships, to connect with people. She learned to get the best out of people through those relationships, and to get the best out of herself. It was a great educational experience for me and for the audience.”
What was the session with JJK and the Lehigh students like?
“They spent the first 20 minutes mesmerized, but Jackie makes you feel so comfortable. She was really open to questions, so it was great for them to ask about both her Olympic experience and the impact she’s made after the Olympics, giving back to the community. She’s used her platform as an athlete to better the world. She is a consummate professional, and this was an awesome — and tremendously educational — opportunity for the students and all of us to learn from her.”