From Polio to Three Gold Medals – Wilma Rudolph

“My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” Wilma Rudolph.

Wilma Rudolph had three strikes against her when she was four – double-pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio.

Everyday her brothers and sisters took turns massaging her crippled leg. Her mother took her to therapy once a week at a Nashville hospital.

1940 to 1956:

Born prematurely on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, she weighed 4 1/2 pounds. She was a sickly child who spent most of her time in bed.

At age 6 Wilma was fitted with a metal leg brace for her left leg.

At 9 she took off her leg brace.

At 16 she won an Olympic bronze medal in the 4x100m relay. (Melbourne – 1956)

At 20, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to ever win three Olympic medals in one Olympics – gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. In the process, she broke three world records.


“When she returned from Rome, Tennessee Gov. Buford Ellington, who was elected as “an old-fashioned segregationist,” planned to head her welcome home celebration. Rudolph said she would not attend a segregated event.

Rudolph’s parade and banquet were the first integrated events in her hometown of Clarksville.” (ESPN)

Wilma Rudolph quotes:

“I don’t know why I run so fast. I just run.”

“I remind them the triumph can’t be had without the struggle.” (To young people)

“No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you.”

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

What keeps you going?

More about Wilma Rudolph: Olympic

Image source: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons