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07: The Lessons of Failure from Wilma Rudolph

What does it take to be a winner? Do winners ever fail? Failure and struggle are important processes to go through to fully enjoy the beauty of winning. Failure is painful and hurts in many ways; no one likes that feeling of failure, but it’s an important part of life. There is no better example of all that comes with winning and losing than the subject of our show today.

“Winning is great, sure, but if you’re 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.” –Wilma Rudolph

Show Highlights:

  • Wilma Rudolph was born in 1940 in Tennessee into a poor black family, the 20th of her father’s 22 children
  • A premature birthweight of only 4.5 lbs. and a childhood filled with illness preceded a bout with polio that took the use of Wilma’s left leg
  • Leg braces, treatments, massages, and help from her large family were Wilma’s life until she pulled the braces off at age 9 and started walking
  • Soon she was playing basketball, running, jumping, and challenging her brothers in sports
  • At age 14, she was noticed by a college track coach, so she started running, soon qualifying for the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 at age 16
  • After winning a bronze medal, she went back to college in TN, but fought repeated illnesses because of her drive to always win
  • In 1960, she was the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in a single Olympics in Rome, as she tied and set new world and Olympic records
  • She was an instant celebrity in Europe and America, but was intent on making change 
  • She refused to attend a ticker-tape parade in her honor in TN because it was to be segregated, as everything was in the South in the 1960’s
  • She overcame incredible odds and personal failures, and soon retired from amateur athletics and became a teacher, coach, and mother of four
  • She wrote an autobiography and allowed a movie to be made of her life
  • Her greatest accomplishment was the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a non-profit sports organization
  • Wilma died of brain cancer at age 54 in Nashville in 1994

Resources:

  1. Amazing Women in History 
  2. Notable Biographies
  3. ESPN 
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