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Year : 2001  |  Volume : 47  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 226

The story of Wilma Rudolph.

Department of Paediatric Surgery, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Parel, Mumbai - 400 012, India. , India

Correspondence Address:
A V Deshpande
Department of Paediatric Surgery, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Parel, Mumbai - 400 012, India.
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 11832635

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Keywords: Famous Persons, Female, History of Medicine, 20th Cent., Human, Poliomyelitis, history,Sports, history,United States,

How to cite this article:
Deshpande A V. The story of Wilma Rudolph. J Postgrad Med 2001;47:226

How to cite this URL:
Deshpande A V. The story of Wilma Rudolph. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2001 [cited 2023 Sep 28];47:226. Available from:

Pulse Polio project is very popular in our country. It is indeed a very commendable success. On the backdrop of this success, let us share an astonishing story of possibly the most successful polio victim – Wilma Rudolph. She was a sports hero. But she was a hero, an inspiration for the medical fraternity as well. She was an exceptional American athlete who overcame debilitating childhood illnesses to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely in Tennessee in 1940. The bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from pneumonia and scarlet fever. Soon after, she was a victim of the poliovirus. The polio rendered her left leg powerless, and she had to use metal braces at the age of six. The doctors declared that Wilma would never be able to walk on her own. But Wilma did not lose hope.

“I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get them off” – she thought.

Her family came to her rescue. Her brothers and sisters took turns massaging her crippled limb daily. Her mother also took her regularly to visit her therapist. It was a very painful experience for young Wilma. As if this was not enough, she also suffered from whooping cough, measles and chickenpox. But she continued to fight, and she fought them all!

The efforts of the Rudolph family paid rich dividends. At the age of nine, one Sunday, Wilma removed her braces and walked down the aisle of the church. A triumph – but it was only a beginning of many more victories to come…

Wilma was very happy to be on her feet again. She gradually started participating in sports. Initially she took to basketball, but when she realized that she was much faster than the rest, she switched to athletics. She impressed one and all and was invited by the Tennessee state coach to a training camp. That was it! Wilma grabbed this opportunity and never looked back! She rose higher and higher. She participated in the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne and returned with a bronze medal – a great feat from a ‘polio cripple‘.

But her true moment of glory came at Rome in the 1960 Olympic games where she won three gold medals and became the first American woman to do so. She was a hero; awards were showered on her. She received unprecedented fame and honour. The media called her ‘the black Gazelle‘ and fans followed her all over the world.

Wilma was a wonderful person; soft spoken and gracious. She continues to be an inspiration for African-American athletes to this day. The great Jackie Joyner Kersey rates Wilma as her greatest inspiration – a rare tribute. Wilma’s greatest achievement was the creation of the Wilma Rudolph sports foundation, a non-profit organization that has helped many athletes.

This great personality who was voted as among the 50 best athletes of the century succumbed to a brain tumour in 1994.

Wilma Rudolph would be a worthy mascot for the polio eradication programme around the globe!


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Online since 12th February '04
© 2004 - Journal of Postgraduate Medicine
Official Publication of the Staff Society of the Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai, India
Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow