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Celebrating Black History Month: Wilma Rudolph – One Step at a Time to Victory

Black History Month is about honoring the triumphs, struggles, and contributions of African Americans throughout U.S. history. Its importance can’t be overstated. Knowing the past and recognizing the impact of these individuals on our society, opens the door to the future. Today, we highlight Olympic Champion and international sports icon, Wilma Rudolph.

Born on June 23, 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph came into the world weighing just over 4 pounds but being little didn’t keep her down. By the time she could walk, she seemed to prefer running or even jumping instead.

When Wilma was 4 years old, she fell ill with scarlet fever and polio. Although she recovered from her illness it crippled her left leg, leaving her unable to walk.

“My doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would.

I believed my mother.”

Wilma was determined to keep moving however she could, hopping on one foot around the house. She and her mother rode in the back of the bus to the nearest hospital that would treat Black patients, 50 miles away. There, Wilma learned exercises to strengthen her paralyzed leg which she then practiced at home over and over.

Eventually, her leg was strong enough to be fitted for a steel brace. This helped Wilma get around easier but it still held her back. She kept at her exercises and one day before church she decided it was time to remove the brace and try walking on her own.

Wilma focused, one step at a time, one breath at a time, all the way down the aisle!

That was only the beginning. Wilma continued walking and eventually began running again- this time up and down the basketball court. She was spotted by a college coach during a high school game and was offered a full athletic scholarship to Tennessee State University but not for basketball, for track-and-field.

In 1960, Wilma Rudolph toed the line at the Olympic Games in Rome, won gold in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 400-meter relay, and earned the title, “Fastest Woman in the World.”

“I loved the feeling of freedom in running, the fresh air, the feeling that the only person I’m competing with is me.”

When she returned to Clarksville, Wilma Rudolph insisted that any homecoming festivities in her honor be integrated. In 1963 she participated in a sit-in to protest racial segregation at a local restaurant. A short time later, the mayor announced that all public facilities would become fully integrated.

Thank you, Wilma Rudolph for being Fearless and for reminding us that we are all tougher than our toughest challenge.

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