Black History Feature: Wilma Rudolph

Posted: February 6, 2010 in Black history, Wilma Rudolph
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Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) is an athlete and Olympic track and field champion. She was born into a very large family—Wilma was the 20th of 22 children! In the 1940’s, families were very poor and segregation was still very prominent. Wilma was born premature and as a child battled one illness after another, measles, mumps, chicken pox, scarlet fever and double pneumonia. The nearest black doctor’s office was too far away therefore her mother, Blanche Rudolph, nursed her at home at least until they discovered that her left leg was becoming weak and deformed. Wilma was diagnosed with polio and 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. By the time she was 12 years old, she could walk normally, without the crutches, brace, or corrective shoes. It was then that she decided to become an athlete.

Wilma originally followed in her older sister, Yolanda’s footsteps and joined the basketball team. During her state basketball tournament, she was spotted by Ed Temple, the coach for the famous Tigerbells, the women’s track team at Tennessee State University. After graduating high school, Wilma received a full scholarship to attend and run track for Tennessee State University. She went to her first Olymppic Games in 1956 at the age of 16 and on September 7, 1960 she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics held in Rome. This achievement led her to become one of the most celebrated female athletes of all time. In addition, her celebrity caused gender barriers to be broken in previously all-male track and field events.

Due to all the celebrity she received from her track career, she took a year off from her studies to make appearances and compete in international track events. She returned and received a Bachelor’s degree in education, graduating in 1963. “After retiring from competition in the early 1960s, Rudolph worked as a teacher and a track coach. She shared her remarkable story with the world in 1977 with her autobiography, Wilma. Her book was later turned into a television film. In the 1980s, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote amateur athletics.

Rudolph died on November 12, 1994, near Nashville, Tennessee, from brain cancer. In 2004, the United States Postal Service honored this Olympic champion by featuring her likeness on a 23-cent stamp. She is remembered as one of the fastest women in track and as a source of great inspiration for generations of African-American athletes.”

  1. Alex Chapman says:

    Proficient blog! I’ll probably be mentioning some of this information in my next speech.

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