I was reading about American athlete Wilma Rudolph the other day, and was really inspired by her story. If ever the phrase ‘triumphing over adversity’ rang true, then this would be a case in point.
Wilma Rudolph was an American athlete who competed in both the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. In the 1960 Rome Olympics she won both the 100 and 200 metre races, and was part of the winning team on the 4x100 metre relay team.
These wins made her the first woman in US history to win three gold medals in track and field events during a single Olympic tournament. But despite running the 100m sprint at the Rome Olympics in a record breaking eleven seconds flat, Rudolph was not awarded the world record title due to a strong wind, which was said to have increased her speed.
However, she went on to win the 200m sprint in a record breaking 23.2 seconds, and beat a second world record as part of the winning team who ran the relay in 44.5 seconds. These achievements earned her the acknowledgement as the fastest woman in the world, and the international press regularly referred to her affectionately as the Black Gazelle (Italy) The Black Pearl (France) and The Tornado (USA).
Part of what makes Wilma Rudolph so extraordinary is the adversity she overcame to reach her goals. Born prematurely weighing a tiny 4.5 lbs, she contracted scarlet fever, whooping cough, chicken pox, measles and polio, which caused infantile paralysis in her left leg and meant she needed to be fitted with metal leg braces. After extensive hospital treatment Rudolph’s leg braces were removed when she was nine and she began to play basketball, just as her older siblings did – she was the 20th of 22 children. She showed a natural talent and tenacity for sport, and she soon moved on to running.
Rudolph’s sporting achievements not only allowed her to realise her professional dreams, but also her ethical ones too. On her return from the Rome Olympics the Governor of her the hometown Clarksville, Tennessee threw a parade and banquet in her honour, but Rudolph refused to attend unless it was a racially integrated event – Tennessee as this time was still under enforced racial segregation, and the event was one of the first mixed race events to be held in the state. This strength of self contributed to Rudolph’s reputation as a civil rights pioneer, and she is credited as paving the way for African American and female athletes internationally.
She once said “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us”.
I’m totally inspired by this woman, and wanted to share her incredible story with you.