Six Lessons From the One-Time “Fastest Woman Alive” That Will Energize
Your Writing Career

She was born on June 23, 1940, in Bethlehem, Tennessee.

Premature and sickly, she weighed in at only 4.5 lbs.

The measles … mumps … scarlet fever … chicken pox … double pneumonia … as a child, she had them all.

When she was four years old, she contracted infantile paralysis (caused by the polio virus). As a result, her left leg became weakened and deformed.

To make matters even worse, because of segregation laws, the local hospital refused to treat her.

So, twice a week, she travelled 50 miles into Nashville to be treated at the Black Medical College.

Her prognosis was not good.

Doctors said she would never walk again.

At six years of age, she was fitted with a leg brace to help her walk.

At nine, she traded in the brace for a high-topped orthopedic shoe, which she wore for two years.

Despite all these obstacles, she began to blossom as an athlete. And she went on to become the first American woman ever to win three gold medals at a single Olympics.

Her name … Wilma Glodean Rudolph. And her story remains one of the most inspiring in Olympics history.

Rudolph didn’t let her physical challenges get in her way. She persevered and joined the basketball team while attending junior high. In high school, she set state records for scoring and led her team to the state championship.

At age 16, she qualified for the Olympics in track and field. At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Rudolph won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 relay.

Four years later she won gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter and the 4 x 100 meter relay – setting an Olympic record in the 200-meter and a world record in the 4 x 100 relay. (She beat the world record in the 100-meter, but it was not credited, due to the officials’ determining it had been “wind-aided.”)

Throughout the 1960s, Rudolph was known as “the fastest woman alive.”

And while her athletic achievements are now legendary, her attitude toward life easily trumps them.

Here are six lessons that will energize both your writing career and your life from the remarkable story of Wilma Rudolph, aided by quotes from Wilma herself:

  • Lesson #1 – Believe in yourself.

    “’I can’t’ are two words that have never been in my vocabulary. I believe in me more than anything in this world.”

    Winners believe in themselves. Be confident in your writing abilities, and everything else will flow naturally from there.

  • Lesson #2 – Struggle is part of life.

    “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.”

    No one’s life or career goes smoothly all the time. The spirit and determination you exhibit in spite of obstacles can make your victories even sweeter.

  • Lesson #3 – Be optimistic.

    My doctor told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”

    Be realistic, of course, but always be positive. Focus on what you know you can do, not what people tell you that you can’t do.

  • Lesson #4 – You already have what you need.

    “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: the potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

    Don’t act like you’re the exception when it comes to achieving greatness. You can do anything you put your mind to and take action toward.

  • Lesson 5 – Remember, you’re not alone.

    “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you.”

    Keep your ego in check and be grateful for and acknowledge the people who have helped you along the way.

  • Lesson #6 – The secret of winning …

    “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

    Never give up, and, should you stumble, always pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the game stronger than ever.

April 14, 1961, was the day Rudolph described as “one of the most memorable things” that ever happened to her. She was invited to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy.

The following year, she retired from competition. In 1963, she was granted a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Later she worked as a teacher, a track and field coach and as a sports commentator.

Among the many honors she received in her lifetime were being inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame (1973), the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame (1980) and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame (1983).

Sadly, Rudolph passed away from brain cancer on November 12, 1994, at 54 years of age.

Her legacy stands firm.

Describing Rudolph, her 1960 Olympics teammate, Bill Mulliken, once said “She was beautiful; she was nice, and she was the best.”

A personal hero of Rudolph’s, track and field great Jesse Owens, once wrote, “Wilma Rudolph’s courage and her triumph over her physical handicaps are among the most inspiring jewels in the crown of Olympic sports … She was speed and motion incarnate, the most beautiful image ever seen on the track.”

The next time you’re thinking life is too tough or the whole world’s against you, pause for a second and think about Wilma Rudolph and what she overcame to accomplish her goals.

And maybe, it will seem that much easier to accomplish yours.

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Published: February 21, 2014

5 Responses to “Six Lessons From the One-Time “Fastest Woman Alive” That Will Energize Your Writing Career”

  1. The knowledge derived from Wilma's "commitment to suceed" are worth emaluating !

    Thanks to the author for reminding her "values" for better of everyone .

    Cordially, A.Ganesan

    Guest (AGanesan)February 21, 2014 at 9:20 pm

  2. Thanks, John, for this uplifting reminder on how to energize our careers. You should check out Wilma Unlimited, a beautiful kids' book by K. Krull and stunningly illustrated by D. Diaz. I met David Diaz when I was at Harcourt Brace.
    Best, Barbara

    Barbara FieldFebruary 25, 2014 at 8:15 pm

  3. A great story. Thanks.

    Jiivanii DentMarch 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm

  4. This is a story or bravery, of somebody who said No to life and life had no choice but to allow her be.
    Thank you John.
    Thomas Osemiha

    Thomas OsemihaFebruary 18, 2016 at 2:46 pm


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