Wilma Rudolph

Life of Wilma Rudolph


June 23, 1940

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely at 4.5 lbs., the 20th of 22 siblings; her father Ed was a railway porter and her mother Blanche was a maid.

Contracts polio


At the age of four, Wilma contracted polio. The disease weakened her and made her vulnerable to pneumonia and scarlet fever. She survived the potenially deadly illnesses, but she lost the use of her left leg. She needed leg braces, and she absolutely hated them.

Elementary School


Wilma Rudolph enters Cobb Elementary School in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Burt High School


While in high school, Rudolph was on the basketball team when she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Ed Temple. Being discovered by Temple was a major break for a young athlete. The day he saw the tenth grader for the first time, he knew he had found a natural athlete.



In 1958, Wilma was granted a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she received her bachelor's degree in elementary education.

World record


Becomes first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics when she wins the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4 x 100-meter relay at the Summer Olympic Games in Rome.



She married her high school sweetheart Robert Eldridge in 1963, and had four children: Yolanda, Djuanna, Robert Jr. and Xurry. Wilma divorced Robert Eldridge after 17 years of marriage.



After her athletic career, Wilma worked as a teacher at Cobb Elementary School, coaching track at Burt High School, and became a sports commentator on national television.


November 12, 1994

In July 1994, shortly after her mother’s death, Wilma was diagnosed with brain tumor. On November 12, 1994, at age 54, she died of cancer in her home in Nashville. At the time of her death, she had four children, eight grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.She was buried with the Olympic flag draped over her casket.