Track and field star Wilma Rudolph

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

Track and field star Wilma Rudolph, holding an umbrella and wearing her Olympic jacket.
Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was born in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee, in 1940, the twentieth of twenty-two children. Suffering from a few illnesses early in life, at the age of five, she contracted polio. To treat the condition, she and her mother would travel around 50 miles to Meharry Medical College in Nashville weekly. In addition, she received massage treatment four times a day from family members at home, and she wore a leg brace. 

Wilma recovered by the time she was twelve. And soon thereafter, she followed her older sister in to basketball. That’s how she got in to sports.

She excelled on the basketball court, setting records at her school. But a track coach convinced her to give running a shot. Which she did. And which is where stardom came quick. She made the U.S. team for the 1956 Olympics as an 89 pound, sixteen year old. There she won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay.

Four years later she was back in the Olympics. Now six feet tall and weighing 130 pounds, she won three gold medals in 1960, the first woman to win three gold medals in track and field in one Olympics, and set the world record in the 200m dash.

“Track and field star Wilma Rudolph” sources: Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945–1989, Nummer toegang Bestanddeelnummer 911–6074 (no changes made) / “Wilma Rudolph 1960.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation,