BORN WITH POLIO, WILMA RUDOLPH spent much of her first five years in bed, and from age’s five to eleven she wore a leg brace. She had a secret weapon, however, and a powerful one at that: a loving family, including twenty-two siblings from two marriages. Her siblings took turns massaging her crippled leg every day. Her mom, Blanche, a domestic worker, drove her ninety miles round-trip each week to a Nashville hospital for therapy.
Then, one Sunday when she was eleven, she removed the brace and walked down the aisle of her church—she could walk. Her great passion would now be basketball, and she played at every opportunity. In high school, Rudolph scored forty-nine points in one game, a state record. Her athleticism caught the attention of Tennessee State track coach Ed Temple. He recruited her to attend his daily college workouts while she was still in high school. A sociology professor at Tennessee State, Temple’s coaching was unpaid. He drove the team to meets in his own car. An unmarked and unsurfaced dirt oval, he lined the school track at his own expense. He did it for the love of the sport and to help young people. His coaching paid off. At the Rome Olympics in 1960, Rudolph became the fastest woman in the world.
She won three gold medals in one Olympics, the first American woman to do so. She won the 100 m dash, the 200 m dash, and ran the anchor leg of the 400 m relay team. She wrote an autobiography, Wilma, which NBC used as the basis of a film about her life.
Rudolph died much too young, succumbing to brain cancer at age fifty-four in 1994. She advised other young athletes to be themselves and to have confidence. The triumph can’t be had without the struggle, she said.
A dogged determination with continuous perseverance and proper guidance can bring miracles