Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely at 4.5 lbs., the 20th of 22 siblings. Her father Ed was a railway porter and her mother Blanche a maid. Wilma spent her childhood in leg braces and special shoes; doctors had told her family that she would never walk normally.
Because of racial segregation, she and her mother were not permitted medical care at the local hospital. It was for whites only. There was only one black doctor in Clarksville, and the Rudolph’s budget was tight, so Wilma’s mother spent the next several years nursing Wilma through one illness after another: measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and double pneumonia.
At age 4, Wilma was told she could not walk because of polio, a crippling disease that had no cure. The doctor told Mrs. Rudolph that Wilma would never walk. But Mrs. Rudolph would not give up on Wilma. She found out that she could be treated at Meharry Hospital, the black medical college of Fisk University in Nashville. Even though it was 50 miles away, Wilma’s mother took her there twice a week for two years, until she was able to walk with the aid of a metal leg brace. Then the doctors taught Mrs. Rudolph how to do the physical therapy exercises at home. All of her brothers and sisters helped too, and they did everything to encourage her to be strong and work hard at getting well.
Her parents demonstrated a strong work ethic and an attitude that you can do anything. 5 years later she removed her brace and was walking on her own. By 12, she was challenging every boy in her neighborhood at running and jumping.
In high school she joined the basketball team and set a new state record in scoring during her sophomore year – 803 points in 25 games (32 points/game). In one game she set a record of 49 points.
Then she started running. Went to the Olympic at 16 in Australia and won a bronze medal. In 1960 she went to the Rome Olympics and became the first woman to win 3 gold medals and won each event in a new world record time. Wilma Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world.
She was invited to the White House by JFK and inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983. Every year the Woman’s Sports Foundation presents the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award to a woman athlete who overcomes adversity, makes a significant contribution to athletics and serves as a role model for all who have and triumph over challenges. This award was first given in 1996 to Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“Persistence and a positive attitude can change the course of a life from seemingly insurmountable adversity to stunning achievement.” Brett Olson
The MEGA Coach