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Black History Month


Rudolph outran polio, poverty 

Wilma Golden Rudolph overcame polio and poverty to achieve her goals. One of 19 children, she was the first female Olympic runner and an African-American Olympic Games track and field star, earning the title of "World’s Best Woman."

Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tenn. When she was 4 years old, she suffered from polio and scarlet fever. Because of her sickness she was partially paralyzed and had to wear a brace on her left leg.

Through rehabilitation and dedication, she learned to walk and run without the brace at age 11, developing herself into a great runner. In high school, Rudolph was both a basketball and track star. She received a track and field scholarship to run track and field from Tennessee State University. She entered competed in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter and 400-meter relay races, setting many school records.

Rudolph’s outstanding athletic career continued in the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. She ran faster than any woman ever had: 11 seconds in the 100-meter event in 11 seconds. She became the first woman to win three Olympic medals, all gold, for the 100-meter, the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter relay. Rudolph became the second black recipient of the Associated Annual Woman Athlete of the Year Award. In the same year, she was recognized as the world’s fastest female runner and the Associated Press voted her female athlete of the year.

Rudolph was also the NAAU 100-meter champion in 1959-1961. She won the Pan American Games 100-meter event in 1959.

She married her high school sweetheart, Robert Eldrige, and finished college with a degree in elementary education. In 1963, she returned to Clarksville to teach at her old school, Cobb Elementary, and coached the track team at Burt High School, her alma mater. In 1967, she participated in "Operation Champ," an athletic outreach program for underprivileged youth in the ghettoes, which inspired her to start her own non-profit organization, the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, to continue to help young athletes.

After retiring from over after more than 25 years of competition, Rudolph continued to have had a great an impact on young athletes, traveling and promoting support for athletics and education. She died of brain cancer on Nov. 12, 1994.

— By Alyson Hudson


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