She overcame polio and debilitating sickness as a child to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. Her record-breaking achievements even earned her the monicker of the “fastest woman in the world.” How’d she do it?
Black history month day 26: Olympian Wilma Rudolph.
Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born prematurely at 4.5 pounds on June 23, 1940 in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee. She was the 20th of 22 children. Rudolph suffered from infant paralysis as a result of the polio virus. She recovered, but had to wear a brace on her twisted left leg and foot until she was nine. She was required to wear an orthopedic shoe for support of her foot for another two years. For treatment of her twisted leg and frequent bouts of polio and scarlet fever, Rudolph spent much of her childhood in and out of hospitals.
Rudolph played basketball like her sister until her skills in running caught the attention of Tennessee State track and field coach Ed Temple. Under his training, she qualified for the US Olympic track team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when she was just 16 years old. She won a bronze medal in the 4 × 100 m relay. Four years later in the Rome Olympics, she won three gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m and 4 × 100 m relay. Her biggest inspiration was fellow black Olympian Jesse Owens, who had dominated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Rudolph died of cancer at age 54 on November 12, 1994. She left behind four children and eight grandchildren. One of the dormitories at Tennessee State University was named in her honor.