Wilma Rudolph
Overcoming All Odds
We all strive for excellence, but it is rare for someone to achieve every goal that they pursue, especially if they have something impeding them from reaching their full potential. Wilma Rudolph didn't let anything prevent her from achieving her goals and completing her dreams and neither should you. She believed that if you have a dream that you believe strongly enough in, then nothing should stop you from accomplishing that dream.

Wilma was born in June of 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee. Wilma grew up in a poor family of 22 children, herself being the 20th. At an early age it was discovered that Wilma had polio, a viral disease that causes muscle weakness and/or paralysis. Polio, at the time, was a very serious problem and often resulted in the person diagnosed becoming paralyzed. Fortunately today we have vaccinations for polio, so it is rare for people to catch this disease.

Wilma Rudolph and her caring family didn't let polio prevent her from reaching her full potential. Several times a week Wilma went with her mother, Blanche Rudolph, to the nearest hospital that serviced African Americans. Unfortunately this was nearly 50 miles from her home; but Wilma persisted, and by the age of 12, she was able to walk correctly.

Once her legs started to work, it was impossible to hold Wilma back; she kept reaching higher and higher. She started out slow, seeing as how she hadn't grown up as an athlete, and lost often at the beginning but she was determined to succeed as an athlete and worked hard to achieve it. While she was attending Burt High School, however, she picked up fast and began setting record after record. She found a love for basketball and she continued to play throughout her life. But what got Wilma the most attention was her profoundly excellent track and field abilities.

At the age of only sixteen Wilma competed in the 1956 Summer Olympics, where she won a bronze medal for the 4x100 m relay; an amazing accomplishment. But this wasn't enough for the aspiring, strong willed athlete. Wilma wanted to show everyone that she had brains to match her brawn; she attended Tennessee State University. There, she earned a Bachelor's degree in education. Wilma also competed at the 1960 Summer Olympics and won an amazing three Gold medals. To end her athletic career, Wilma received the James E. Sullivan Award for being the top amateur athlete in America.

Afterwards, Wilma settled down and got married to Robert Eldridge in 1963 and had four beautiful children. She worked several years as a coach, teacher and sports commentator. Wilma Rudolph died of brain cancer in 1994.

Wilma Rudolph showed the world that nothing, not even being poor, born prematurely, nor having polio could prevent her from reaching her goals. Today people everywhere look up to and respect her for overcoming those amazing hardships.

Awards Received:

  • United Press Athlete of the Year 1960
  • Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year 1960
  • James E. Sullivan Award for Good Sportsmanship 1961*
  • The Babe Zaharias Award 1962
  • European Sportswriters' Sportsman of the Year*
  • Christopher Columbus Award for Most Outstanding International Sports Personality
  • The Penn Relays 1961*
  • New York Athletic Club Track Meet*
  • The Millrose Games*
  • Black Sports Hall of Fame 1980
  • U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame 1983
  • Vitalis Cup for Sports Excellence 1983
  • Women's Sports Foundation Award 1984
* indicates first woman to receive the award/invitation.


For More Information:

Rudolph ran and the world went wild - ESPN.com
Wilma Rudolph: Gale Free Resources - Black History Month


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