Wilma Rudolph 1960 Olympics

Photo of Wilma Rudolph during competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Wilma Rudolph was an American athlete and Olympic sprint champion. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics in 1960. As a child she was paralyzed by polio but by age 12 she had regained her ability to walk and became an Olympic champion just eight years later.

Rudolph retired from running after her Olympic victory, became a schoolteacher, and coached high school and college running teams. She also created her own nonprofit to encourage underprivileged kids in sports. But though she was widely decorated and beloved as an inspiration, her life was cut tragically short when she died of brain cancer at 54, in 1994.

For Rudolph, her legacy was simple: showing people that if you don’t give up, you can achieve your dreams. “I would be very sad if I was only remembered as Wilma Rudolph, the great sprinter,” she said “To me, my legacy is to the youth of America to let them know they can be anything they want to be.”