Wilma Rudolph was one of America’s first major national superstars in track and field. She was born on June 23, 1940 in Tennessee and was the 20th of 22 children. When Wilma was four years old she suffered from many illnesses and contracted polio, which caused infantile paralysis. Her doctors said she would never walk again but her mother said she would, and she believed her mother. With the help of her family, therapists, leg braces, and a lot of grit, Rudolph began walking and removed her leg brace at 12 years old. Her story shows the true definition of unlimited and the need to focus your mindset on overcoming life’s toughest challenges.
During her high school years she became a great basketball player and her coach would have her work on speed conditioning with the track team. She became so good at running that she represented the United States at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 at the age of 16, being the youngest member of the team. As if overcoming a condition that left her paralyzed for much of her childhood is not impressive enough, it is incredible to think that she competed at what many consider to be the highest level of competition only 4 years after regaining full mobility and winning a bronze medal. When she returned home, she received a college scholarship in track and field at Tennessee State.
Rudolph continued to focus on her running and was again selected to compete in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. She went on to become the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics. She became a superstar both at home and around the world and was known as “the fastest woman in history.” When she returned, her hometown in Tennessee wanted to throw her a hero’s parade. However, the parade was supposed to be segregated so she refused to attend unless they forced change, and so they did. “Welcome Wilma Day” was the first integrated event in the history of Clarksville, Tennessee. After retiring from competition, she continued her education at Tennessee State and earned her degree in education in addition to becoming a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department.
Wilma Rudolph said that the key to winning was knowing how to lose. “Nobody wins 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.” She exemplifies how determination and grit can help you overcome such incredible adversity. A reminder that with every triumph comes the struggle to get there.
In today’s #MakeItHappen Monday, focus on getting back up after every struggle. If you keep going, you can overcome your challenges. Tell us how you are overcoming the tough moments in your life and email firstname.lastname@example.org or share your story and tag us on social.
Go make it happen,
Matias & the YTeach Team
“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