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Michelle Goode from North Philadelphia, Penn., wrote:
"Wilma Rudolph is my hero because she was a great African American track star,
and I love to run. I know that academics will get me somewhere in life, and track is the
sport that I believe also will help me accomplish my goals. I've watched movies of Wilma Rudolph and
read books about her, and I hope someday to be like her. I would like to have her speed and a loving
family to give me confidence, so I too can have the feeling that you get after you win."
Dana from Stony Creek, Conn., wrote:
"Wilma is my hero because she was very PERSISTENT! When she was
very young, she had polio; back then, it was a hard thing to cure. The
doctors said that she would never walk again. She had two braces on her legs and walked with canes, but she worked hard and one day in church she stood up and walked down the aisle. That, to me, is AMAZING!! She really did something and ACHIEVED!!!!!!!. Later on in her life she became a basketball player
and won a gold medal in the Olympics in track, and that is why Wilma
Rudolph is my hero"
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt
Wilma Rudolph was an exceptional American track and field athlete
who overcame debilitating childhood illnesses and went on to become
the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.
Wilma Rudolph was born in 1940 in Bethlehem, Tenn. The twentieth of 22 children, she was born with polio and suffered from serious
bouts of pneumonia and scarlet fever as a young child. All these
ailments contributed to a bad leg that some said would prevent her
from ever walking. But Wilma had a loving and devoted family who
made sure she got medical attention and who provided physical
therapy themselves four times a day. She wore a leg brace from the
time she was five until she was 11 years old. Then, one Sunday, she
removed it and walked down the aisle of her church.
When Wilma was 13, she got involved in organized sports at school,
including basketball and track. Soon she was running and winning races. She was invited to a
training camp at Tennessee State University by coach Ed Temple, who coached numerous track
and field athletes and became Wilma's most important professional influence.
In 1956, when she was still a sophomore in high school, she participated in the Olympic Games in
Melbourne, Australia. She lost the 200 meter race, but her relay team took home the bronze
Wilma became more determined than ever. In 1958, she began college at Tennessee State
University and became a member of Ed Temple's "Tigerbelles" track team. In 1960, she set a
world record for the 200 meter dash during the Olympic trials. Then during the Olympic games in
Rome, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the 100 meter dash, the 200
meter dash and the 400 meter relay. When she returned to Tennessee, she was honored with her
hometown's first racially integrated parade.
The next year she received a Sullivan Award, which is given annually to the top amateur athlete in
the United States. Subsequent honors included the Black Sports Hall of Fame, the U.S. Track and
Field Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Women's Hall of Fame. In
1993, she became the first recipient of President Clinton's National Sports Award.
Wilma had worked her way through school and later became a coach and teacher. Her
autobiography, "Wilma Rudolph on Track", was a bestseller, and in 1977 it became a television movie, starring Cicely Tyson.
Wilma's greatest pride was her four children.
On Nov. 12, 1994, Wilma Rudolph died of a brain tumor at the age of
54. The Olympic flag covered her casket at her funeral. She will always be
remembered for her inspirational determination to overcome her physical
disabilities. Through the love of her family and her religious convictions she
rose above the racism and segregation of her time. She recognized the
importance of good teachers in her own life, and later became a
teacher herself. Wilma Rudolph was not only a sports hero, she was also a
family hero and a teacher hero.
Caltrise Smith from Gretna, La., writes:
Wilma Rudolph, once known as the sickliest child in Clarksville, Tennessee, became one of the fastest women in the world. She overcame polio as a child, and at age twenty became the first
American women to win three gold medals at a single Olympics. When Wilma returned home her family was waiting for her, and so was all of Clarksville. The huge parade
and banquet held in her honor were the first events in the town's history to include both
blacks and whites.
When Wilma was a child, in the 1940s, she contracted polio, also known as
infantile paralysis. It was the world's most dreaded disease. With great bravery and the help of her family, Wilma fought and won her battle against polio. A cure for polio was not found until
1955. By then, it had killed or crippled 357,000 Americans, mostly children, only 50,000 fewer
than the number of Americans who had died in W. W. II.
After Wilma retired from her career
as a runner in 1962, she became a second grade teacher and a high school coach. She
remained a much-admired celebrity, but to prove that there was more to her than just
running, she started a company called Wilma Unlimited. This gave her opportuniies to
travel, lecture and support causes she believed in. Later she founded the non-profit Wilma Rudolph
Foundation to nurture young athletes and to teach them that they, too, can succeed despite all
odds against them. The story of all she overcame in order to win at the Olympics has inspired
thousands of young athletes, especially women and my self. Wilma Rudolph died in 1994.
THAT'S WHY I THINK SHE'S A HERO!