A determined athlete.

Wilma Rudoph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940 to a poor family in Tennessee, United states. She was the 20th child out of 22 children. She was born at a time when African-Americans weren’t at the top of the list to get help at America’s finest hospitals. She had many diseases as a child, including polio, scarlet fever, and pneumonia; one result of this left her left leg partially paralysed. Many Doctors felt she would never walk again but she believed otherwise.

Do you believe so much in yourself and your dreams to defile all odds?

wilma 3Because of the polio paralysis, she had problems with her left leg. Her mother took her every week on a long bus trip to a hospital to receive therapy. When she was six years old, she began to wear metal leg braces because she could not use that leg. Her siblings used to help her massage her legs. She told her mum, “I wanted to be the fastest runner on earth” and her mum said, “You can do anything. If only you believe”. She secretly practiced walking without the braces and on her ninth birthday, she came out openly without it against her Doctor’s advice. She said, “My Doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother”.   Two years later, she was playing basketball.

She enrolled to run in high school. She participated in her first race at the age of thirteen and came LAST. She tried again and did worse. After failing, she went to Tennessee camp and ran twenty miles a day, five days a week. She kept trying by participating in races and one day, she won and continued to win

Never stop trying even if it’s not working out. The crime is not in failing but in never trying. -MAYOWA DEPO-OYEDOKUN

At the age of fifteen, she went to Tennesse state university where she met a coach. Her real career began when Ed Temple spotted her at the state basketball tournament. She told him she wanted to be the fastest runner and the coach said, “With your spirit, nothing can stop you.” While she used opportunities such as meeting Ed Temple to open doors of opportunity for herself, Rudolph always kept education a priority, later saying: “IN THE BACK OF THE MIND, I ALWAYS TRIED TO WORK TOWARD EDUCATION.” She was the first child in her family to go to college, she used her running skills to earn a spot on the Tennesse state university track team.

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she represented USA in the Olympics at the age of twenty. She became the first American wilma 4woman—white or black—to win three gold medals in one Olympics. She won the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4×100-meter relay. Many people called her the “World’s Fastest Woman.” She was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

Rudolph fought against gender and racial barriers such as one set by people who believed women should not participate in the Olympics.

Her return home to Tennessee was a momentous occasion as well. The governor of her home state wanted to have a victory parade for her, but Rudolph wouldn’t allow it unless it didn’t include restrictions on people’s skin color. The governor agreed, and the parade was the first integrated event in Clarksville, where she had lived since she was very young.

Rudolph remained a public figure, working to help young athletes get better and to improve the rights of African-Americans. She worked as a track coach at DePauw University, in Indiana. She created the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to help young athletes get the recognition and support they deserved. She was voted into the National Track and Field Hall of Hame, as well as the Black Athletes Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. She was also a sports commentator.

In 1963, she married Robert Eldridge; they had four children.

wilma 5Sadly, she died of brain cancer on November 12, 1994. She was just 54. She was remembered as an amazing athlete and a powerful voice for African-Americans and their struggle for equality. Her story inspired Florence Griffith Joyner (the next African American to win three gold medals in track, at the 1998 olympic games in Seoul, South Korea).

Your success is never only for you. No, your success gotten through determination, fortitude and hardwork will encourage those that think they can’t do it to go after that seemingly impossible dream and achieve it. Your success can birth the successes of people you might never meet. – MAYOWA DEPO-OYEDOKUN

wilmaAt the time, Rudolph was seen as an American hero due to her athletic ability and is still seen as an American hero due to her athletic ability and is still seen as an American hero because of the her determination for equality and her athletic ability despite her many sicknesses.


 Wilma Rudoph went after her dream with a vengeance and had to overcome challenges. Sweetheart, what is stopping you when you are able-bodied? Why aren’t you dreaming? Dreaming is very important but not as important as putting those dreams into motion. Don’t just have dreams and passion. Let passion be what will fuel you to pursue that dream, that goal. Don’t let passion die in your mind without you doing something to bring it alive. My pastor once said, “You must have an unstoppable. A spirit that won’t rest until the dream is actualized. Don’t make excuses. Find ways to get it done.”

“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.” – WILMA RUDOLPH.

  • frances
    September 28, 2014

    This was really inspiring dear… indeed, our successes are not only meant to be for us, we should strive till we get there, other lives depend on us too… #no giving up

    • Oluwamayowa Depo Oyedokun
      September 28, 2014

      No giving up. If people like her gave up, some people might never have found the strength to get up and decide not to let challenges be stumbling blocks. We write not only our stories but through our stories, give others permission to write their stories.

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