Born prematurely at 4.5 lbs, Wilma Rudolph caught infantile paralysis from a polio virus when she was younger. She slowly recovered but because her left leg and foot had become twisted as a result of the disease, she was required to wear a brace. Rudolph suffered from several illnesses when she was younger, including chicken pox, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and the measles. However, it was her sister’s talent that pushed Rudolph to overcome her handicap. Her older sister played basketball and Rudolph wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Rudolph played basketball in high school but was recognized for her running capabilities when she was spotted by the Tennessee State track and field coach Edward S. Temple. Rudolph had run for Burt High School track to keep her busy between basketball season. However, by the time she was 16 years-old; Rudolph had earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic track and field team and came home from the 1956 Melbourne Games with an Olympic bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay.
During the 1960s, Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world and competed in two Olympic Games in 1956 and 1960. In 1960, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during the Olympic Games. She was also recognized as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer, especially because she utilized her talent to elevate women’s rights and push for empowerment amongst females.