Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23rd, 1940 in Bethlehem, Tennessee to Ed Rudolph and Blanche Rudolph. Rudolph became a pioneering African-American track and field champion, but she went through a tough spot in her life before pursuing her dreams.
Wilma Rudolph suffered from polio, double pneumonia, and scarlet fever, causing her to have issues with her left leg. The doctor told her parents she needed therapeutic massage for her left leg to regain its strength. When she turned five, the doctor fitted a brace on her left leg which she needed to wear from when she woke up until it was time for her to go to bed. The brace to her was a visible sign to let people know she had a physical problem and she did not like that. The doctor told Rudolph that she wouldn’t be able to walk again. Her mother told her that she would, which Rudolph believed. With hard work from therapy and her faith, she was out of her brace and walking again.
Wilma Rudolph attended Burt High school, an all-black school, where she played on the basketball team. She became a gifted runner and trained with track coach Ed Temple at Tennessee State University.
She went to the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. She was the youngest member of the U.S track and field team at age sixteen which she won a bronze medal. She went to Tennessee State University where she was studying education and training for the next Olympics.
She went to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. After having tied with a world record with a time of 11.3 seconds in the 100-meter semifinals, she won the finals with her time at 11 seconds. She also broke the Olympic record in the 200-meter dash in the heats before getting another gold medal with a time of 24 seconds. Rudolph was part of the U.S team that got the world record in the 400-meter relay before going on to win gold with the time of 44.5 seconds. She became the first American woman to win three gold Olympic medals in track and field at a single game.
Wilma Rudolph’s achievements brought her fame. She went on to make television appearances and received many great honors. President John F. Kennedy even invited her to come to the White House. In 1960 and 1961, she received the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year Award. She went on to teach, coach, and run a community center after retiring from the competition. In the 1980s, she was inducted into the U.S Olympic Hall of Fame.
Wilma Rudolph died on November 12, 1994 in Brentwood, Tennessee after battling with brain cancer. Her legacy still lives on as she is remembered as one of the fastest women in track. She is also an inspiration to many generations of athletes.
Wilma Rudolph once stated, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” Wilma Rudolph’s life started off rough, but with her faith and determination, she ran through her storm.