American Wilma Rudolph overcame numerous diseases as a child to become a triple Olympic gold medalist. Rudolph contracted polio as an infant and as a result was paralyzed. She eventually recovered, but had to wear a brace for three years to support her twisted left leg and foot. Her list of medical maladies also included scarlet fever, whooping cough, double pneumonia and measles. But by the time she was 12, Rudolph had beaten all of her ailments and could already run and walk normally.
Free of her physical handicaps, she initially took up basketball, but eventually shifted to athletics upon the urging of a track and field coach who spotted her one day while she was playing. The move turned out to be a good one, as Wilma made the U.S. Olympic team in 1956 at the age of 16. She was part of the women’s 4x100 relay team that bagged a bronze medal in Melbourne. Rome, 1960 was Rudolph’s time to shine, as she won golds in the women’s 100m and 200m and 4x100m relay, becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field. The feats earned her numerous Athlete of the Year awards, and eventually got her elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
Rudolph retired in 1962, and devoted her time to coaching, teaching and helping the underprivileged. She died in 1994 at the age of 54 of a brain tumor, but her legacy lives to this day.
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