Wilma Rudolph Defying Odds

Wilma Rudolph A Story Of Defying The Odds

If ever there was an example of true grit, the story of American female track and field athlete, Wilma Rudolph, is a tale that’s tough to beat. Best known for becoming the fastest women in the world, and the first female to win 3 Olympic gold medals at the same games, her journey was a long, rollercoaster of a trip far from smooth sailing.

Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee as the 22nd child to her dad Ed, who had fathered 21 other brothers and sisters over two marriages.

Wilma Rudolph A Story Of Defying The Odds

At birth Rudolph had several debilitating health conditions including polio and scarlet fever. The polio forced her to wear a leg brace, and the comorbidity of her situation meant that her prognosis was very bleak. Rudolph explained;

“My doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” 

As if that wasn’t enough of a struggle in itself, she had to endure all this, whilst growing up as women of color, in the deep South during the era of segregation.

Overcoming Disabilities

Despite the disabilities, the budding young athlete showed surprising promise early on. She began moving around on her brace and by the age of 11 became mobile enough to play basketball. Eventually, with help of physical therapy, she was able to overcome her disabilities and fully dedicated her life to athletics.

Whilst attended the all-Black Burt High School, she joined the basketball team, and as a naturally gifted runner she was then recruited to Tennessee State University to train with famous track coach Ed Temple.

Worlds First 3 Olympic Gold Medals

Nicknamed “Skeeter” for her intense speed, Rudolph competed for the first in 1956 at the Summer Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. Here, as the youngest member of the team at just 16, she raced in the Women’s 200-meters and the 4 × 100-meter relay; the latter of which saw her team win bronze.

This taste of success gave her the inspiration to perform even better next time, and that she did; coming back 4 years later at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, to win a ground-breaking 3 gold medals; Women’s 100m and 200m, and the 4 x 100m relay.

In the heats Rudolph broke the Olympic record in the 200 meters with a time of 23.2 seconds. In the 100-meter semifinals she also tied the world record with her personal best of 11.3 seconds, but she wasn’t finished at that as in the final she went to win the race with lighting time of 11.0 seconds; another record breaking time. However, the run was classified as wind-aided, and therefore, did not qualify for an official world record.

In satisfying tale of redemption, the 4 x 100m relay that only blessed Rudolph’s team with bronze four years prior, first saw them cruise through the heats whilst also earning a world record of 44.4 seconds, then winning the finals to take home another gold

Wilma Rudolph Olympian

As a child, Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to become an Olympic sprint champion. This made her an American icon and a role model.
Wilma Rudolph Biography
Wilma Rudolph A Story Of Defying The Odds

Female Athlete of the Year 1961 & 1980 HOF

For her notable achievements, Rudolph was awarded the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year two years running, in 1961 and 1962. That year, Rudolph also competed at the U.S.–Soviet meet at Stanford University, where she also won the 100-meter and 4-x 100-meter relay races. That year, Rudolph retired from competition and returned to finish her degree at Tennessee State University, after which she began working in the education industry.

In 1977, Rudolph released her autobiography, Wilma, which was later turned into a TV film. In 1980, Rudolph was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame. Shortly after, in 1981, she established the ‘Wilma Rudolph Foundation’, a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis that promotes and helps amateur athletics, with a focus on track and field stars.

A Fulfilling Life To Inspire Many

Rudolph’s amazing life came to end on November 12, 1994, after losing a battle with brain cancer. Nevertheless, after earning the moniker ‘the fastest woman in the world,’ she certainly made her mark on history and achieved more than most people could ever dream of in several lifetimes. Rudolph is quoted as saying

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can’t pick up after a crushing defeat and go on to win again, you will be a champion someday.”

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