A visit to the beautiful Custom House Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee brought me face to face with Wilma Glodean Rudolph. This Olympic Gold medal winner was profiled at the museum and impressed me with her story.
Born on June 25, 1940, the 20th of 22 children to Ed and Blanche Rudolph, she came into the world early weighing only four and a half pounds. At the age of four, she suffered from pneumonia and polio which left her left leg paralyzed.
Through he efforts of her family who took the time to massage her legs back to health, this determined young woman was told she would never walk again, but by the time she was in high school was a basketball star.
Ed Temple, the unpaid track and field coach for Tennessee State University noticed her speed and soon recruited her for his collegiate track team. In 1956 at the age of 16, he had her competing in the US track and field team Olympic event in Melbourne Australia where she won a bronze in the 400 meter relay.
In 1960, she returned to the Olympic games in Rome Italy and took it by storm. She returned home with a three gold metals for the 100, 200 and 400 meter races. What truly impressed me though was this young woman’s courage and dedication to inclusitivity. When she was offered a ticker tape parade by the City of Clarksville, she told the coordinators that she would only be there if the event was for both black and white races. They agreed and the first unsegregated event for people of all races took place in the city of Clarksville.
Retiring from competing, Wilma went on to teach school, marry twice and have four children. At this time there was no money in track and field events. Money was scarce and times were hard, she wrote her autobiography in 1977, and hosted a local television show and ran a community center for a while in Indiana. At the age of 54, she passed away from a brain tumor. She is buried at the Edgefield Baptist Church cemetery located in Clarksville.
The City has not for forgotten this hero remembering both her athletic ability and her ability to bring people of all color together. She is profiled in the Custom House Museum, a dormitory at Tennessee Sate University is named in her honor and a beautiful bronze statue of her is located outside the Wilma Rudolph Event Center.
I enjoyed learning her legacy and could only hope to have her kind of determination and courage to rise to occasions.