Motivation Articles

A Motivational Story of Olympic Proportions

Wilma Rudolph's Uphill Battle to Olympic Gold

As I write this, the 2008 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. Athletes from around the world will gather in Bejing, China, to compete in their respective sports in hopes of honoring their countries and fulfilling lifelong dreams of winning Olympic gold. Watching these athletes is like art, as they flawlessly execute movements with speed, power, and grace. It truly is poetry in motion and always inspires me to be the best I can be, too.

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.

Wilma Rudolph retired from her running career when she was 22 years old. She went on to coach women’s track teams, encouraged and motivated other young people to reach their dreams, and even started a foundation for children. In 1994, brain and throat cancer took her life, but her influence still lives on today.

One of my favorite quotes from Wilma Rudolph said, “The triumph can’t be had without the struggle. And I know what struggle is.”

Does her quote strike a chord with you? To me, it's about reaching any goal, whether you want to lose weight, get healthy, or fulfill a childhood dream. There are many struggles we all must overcome, but when we do, it makes our achievement that much better. Like Wilma who had a loving family and involved coaches help her learn to walk and then run, we do not have to face our struggles alone either. We can help each other through encouraging words and support just as Wilma’s brothers and sisters lovingly massaged her legs. We can help each other to fulfill our dreams and overcome our obstacles!

This is the lesson you can learn from one of America's greatest Olympic athletes. Even when things seem hopeless, and even if people tell you that it's impossible, never, never give up.

Editor's Note: We hope you'll enjoy this video we found about Wilma Rudolph and her many struggles and accomplishments.

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Member Comments

  • WritingDiva1, how cool that your mom knew her !
    We Tennesseeans are VERY PROUD of Wilma's accomplishments.
    I have had this bookmarked and periodically re-read it for inspiration.
    With ALL of her disadvantages - pysical handicap, poor, female and Black -
    her story is even MORE REMARKABLE !
    She was and IS an inspiration for EVERYONE

    I love this story! It his close to home because my mom went to school with her at Tennessee State in Nashville. I found this out after seeing a move about her as a kid. My mom said, do you want to see something. And she pulled out her yearbook, one that I had seen years before, and she showed me a picture of Wilma Rudolph. Her running track and her school picture. Instead of closing it she turned to the front cover and there was her signature. I asked my mom if she was nice and she said she was. I never became a runner (my story wouldn't have been so great), but she inspired me, nonetheless, to go for my goals no matter how hard they are.
  • As a kid I remember reading about Wilma in our Weekly Reader. It was the 60's a time of racial confusion, woman trying to find their way to expression, dresses still required to be wore by girls to school, real example of kids scars by polio and measles - Wilma blew through all those issues and just was a humble example of not limiting her dreams. She was my inspiration to run the track every lunch hour in high school. Sad that she died of brain cancer, but I was glad for the update.
  • Thank you for a great article about a wonderful woman who I had never heard of before. This was especially touching to me because my father and his aunt who I am named after both overcame polio to be able to walk again. Although neither of them became athletes, they both became high achievers in their life, overcoming great obstacles to do so.

    We are so blessed in our day and age to have the polio vaccine so that children in our country no longer have to suffer the devastating losses caused by this disease. It strikes not once, but twice. My father and other people who I know who have overcome the effects of their original disease later were crippled again by what has now come to be known as post-polio syndrome, leaving once triumphant survivors again bound by braces, canes, walkers, wheelchairs. It is important that we never forget the devastating toll this disease can take and continue to fight it world wide, seeking its eventually eradication. There are still countries where it takes its toll.
  • She was an amazing woman, and her loving family too, for supporting her. Such an inspiration!
    Great article & video. Very inspirational and thought-provoking
    . Thanks!
  • Wonderful video!!
  • I live near Wilma's hometown of Clarksville, TN and am ashamed to say most folks around here don't know who she was. She is a true inspiration of how far hard work can take you. We all have struggles but what we do with them is what counts!!
  • Jason, you did an AWESOME job of conveying a most critical message to us! "Like Wilma who had a loving family and involved coaches help her learn to walk and then run, we do not have to face our struggles alone either." EXCELLENT and inspiring post. It makes me think about who among my loved ones I can help and believe in.
  • Your story and the accompanying video brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing her story with us. We all need the reminder that what we need to overcome any obstacle has already been placed in us - we just need to find it and use it!
  • WOW!
    thank you so much Jason for sharing her story
    I remember reading a book about Wilma Rudolph and being very inspired by it when I was young. I have a cousin who had polio when she was a little girl, my aunt and uncle were told that she would never walk again. That was over 50 years ago, and you can't slow my cousin down. She walks, she runs after her grandkids, she worked full time as a hairdresser until a few years ago. Never say you can't do something!
  • I love her story as it is a inspirational & motivational story. She shows all able body people that they can achieve their goals as well.
  • 25%GONE
    Wow. What I really like is the support she got from her family.
  • Thanks for posting this article. It provides motivation and encouragement to become all we can be. We are blessed with Wilma Rudolph, a life lived with grace.

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.