Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)
Wilma Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940, the bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contacted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was 6.
« I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get them off, » she said. « But when you come from a large, wonderful family, there’s always a way to achieve your goals. »
« My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother »
Her brothers and sisters took turns massaging her crippled leg every day. Once a week her mother Blanche, a domestic worker, drove her 90 miles roundtrip to a Nashville hospital for therapy.
Years of treatment and a determination to be a « normal kid » worked. Despite whooping cough, measles and chicken pox, Rudolph was out of her leg braces at age 9.
In 1960, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three track & field medals at a single Olympic Games. She was also known as « The Black Gazelle », « The Tornado » and « The Black Pearl » As a member of the black community, she is also regarded as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer.Just two years later, she retired, her legacy having been written. She died of brain cancer at age 54 on Nov. 12, 1994 in Nashville.