“Wilma Rudolph, once known as the sickliest child in Clarksville,Tennessee, became one of the fastest women in the world.” -Caltrise Smith
A generation or two ago, everyone was familiar with the story of Wilma Rudolph. Today, she has become a historic figure that many younger runners are unfamiliar with. Wilma is a real inspiration, a true legend and hero. Let her triumphs motivate and encourage you!
Wilma Rudolph was born premature on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee. Wilma was the 20th of 22 children. She was born with Polio, and one of her legs was so twisted she had to wear a brace on it. She was so crippled she couldn't attend school until she was 7. When Wilma was 12, she was in church one Sunday. Out of nowhere she just reached down, removed her brace, and walked down the aisle normally. By that time, Wilma had already beaten the chicken pox, the measles, whooping cough, pneumonia, and scarlet fever. No matter, by Wilma's sophomore year of high school she was setting records on the basketball team and leading the team to a championship season.
So far so good, right? By the age of 16, Wilma, who only ran track to stay in shape between basketball seasons, had earned a spot on the US Olympic team running the 4x100 relay. It was the 1956 Melbourne Games, and Wilma, who hadn't been able to walk just a few years earlier, came away with a bronze medal....
Wilma's participation in the 1956 Olympics was in large part due to being spotted by Ed Temple, the track coach at Tennessee State University. Ed invited Wilma to train during the summer with his team, and the rest is history. In 1963, Wilma was awarded a full-ride athletic scholarship to Tennessee State. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and later worked as an elementary school teacher. In the midst of her studies, Wilma managed to pull off another stunning Olympic performance—this time in Rome (1960).
In temperatures over 100 degrees, Wilma claimed gold in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4x100 relay. Her 100 meter time (11.0) would've been a new world record if it hadn't been deemed “wind aided.” Her 200 meter time (23.2 seconds) was an Olympic record. Her 4x100 relay time (44.5 seconds) was also a world record. Wilma dedicated her triple gold performance to her idol Jesse Owens, an African-American who as you probably know won three golds in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. Wilma was the first American woman to accomplish this feat.
Wilma Rudolph's legacy still inspires today. Wilma has graced a postage stamp, had highways, buildings, and schools named after her, and has been inducted in the Track and Field Hall of Fame, the National Black Sports Hall of Fame, and the US Olympic Hall of Fame. Sports Illustrated voted her one of the top 50 greatest sports figures of the 20th century.