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When considering these athletes and their abilities—some of which come from hard work and others that come from natural talent—it's hard to imagine that some of them have overcome insurmountable odds to get where they are today. One notable champion was the late Wilma Rudolph.
Born in 1940 in rural Tennessee, Wilma grew up in a family with 22 children. Her father was a railroad porter and her mother a maid. When Wilma Rudolph was only four years old, she was diagnosed with polio, a crippling disease that rendered her unable to walk.
Her mother did everything she could to help Wilma walk on her own again, even though all of her doctors assured her that it would never happen. Every week, she took Wilma on a long bus trip to a hospital to receive therapy. Although the doctors gave no assurance, they encouraged her to massage Wilma’s legs every day. She taught her other children how to do it, and Wilma's mother and siblings and rubbed her weak legs four times a day.
By the time she was eight, Wilma was able to walk with the help of metal leg braces. After that, she used a high topped shoe to help support her foot, and she played basketball every day with her brothers. Three years later, her mother came home one day to find her playing barefoot! She didn’t even have to use the special shoes anymore!
A track coach encouraged Wilma to start running. She ran so well that during her senior year in high school, she qualified for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where she won a bronze medal in the Women’s 400 meter relay.
In 1959, she qualified for the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Italy, by setting a world record in the 200 meter run. At the Olympics that year she won two gold medals—one each for the 100 and 200 meter races. She then sprained her ankle but ignored the pain to help her team win another gold medal by anchoring the 400 meter relay! Just 16 years after being told by doctors that she would never walk again, Wilma was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.