Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was an African-American Olympian. She overcame huge odds as a child to go on and win three gold medals and one bronze in track and field.BeginningsWilma Glodean Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee. Her father, Ed, worked as a railroad porter and handyman while her mother, Blanche, cooked and cleaned for wealthy white families.Wilma was born prematurely and weighed only 4.5 pounds. Wilma's mother spent several years of nursing her through one illness after another, including measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox and double pneumonia. The diagnosis was polio, a crippling disease that had no cure.The doctor told Blanche that Wilma would never be able to walk, but Blanche would not just give up. Shortly after that, Wilma decided to become an athlete.Meteoric riseWilma began to play basketball in junior high, and then in high school. During the state basketball tournament, Wilma was spotted by Ed Temple, the Tigerbells women's track team coach at Tennessee State University. Temple invited Wilma to Tennessee State for a summer sports camp, because her high school did not have a track team.Wilma Rudolph competed in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, where she won the bronze metal in the 4 by 4 relay, at the age of 16. She took time off from her education to pursue her athletic career, but would eventually return and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1963.Rudolph appeared at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and went on to win three Olympic titles: the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4-by-100-meter relay. amateur athlete in 1961.Rudolph married her high school sweetheart, Robert Eldridge, in 1963. They would later divorce.Rudolph posted many accomplishments, one of which was more special to her than the others. Later that night, a banquet was held in her honor; it was the first time in the town’s history that blacks and whites ever gathered.Moving onWhen Rudolph retired from track, she returned to Clarksville. She later moved to Maine and then Indiana to take on coaching roles. She also worked in broadcasting as a sports commentator.In 1967, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey invited Rudolph to take place in “Operation Champ,” an athletic outreach program for children in the inner cities of 16 major urban areas. The foundation provided sports coaching free of charge, and academic assistance as well.Rudolph wrote her autobiography entitled Wilma in 1977. It was later made into a movie for television, and Rudolph was a consultant in its production.Meteoric fallWilma Rudolph died of brain cancer in her home in Brentwood, Tennessee, on November 12, 1994, at the age of 54.


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