Wilma Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. Born prematurely, she developed pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio, all before the age of six. Rudolph overcame every obstacle in her path: she not only learned to walk but eventually became a decorated track star.
Because her high school didn’t have adequate funding for a track team, Rudolph joined the basketball team. The coach didn’t put her in a game until her sophomore year, when she eventually became the starting guard.
It was during a state basketball tournament that she was spotted by Ed Temple, coach for the famous women’s track team at Tennessee State University (TSU). Prior to graduation, Coach Temple invited Wilma to TSU for a summer sports camp. Based on her exceptional athletic abilities, Rudolph received a full scholarship to TSU--one of three historically black colleges & universities located in the Nashville area. Under the training of legendary Coach Temple, she continued to excel in track and field.
Her speed and intensity earned her a spot on the 1956 and 1960 U.S. Olympic teams. With Coach Temple still by her side, she became the first female athlete to win three gold medals in track and field in the 1960 games. When Rudolph returned home, the then-segregated community welcomed its hero. She refused to attend any function that was not integrated, thus bringing some of the first non-segregated events to the Clarksville community. She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in the 1980s.
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