Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wilma Unlimited

Wilma Rudolph was never one to sit still and act "lady like." When you're the youngest of 20 brothers and sisters (two more would be born to her parents), there's always someone to run and tumble with whenever you want (or don't want). Wilma was always small (weighed four lbs at birth; she later grew in her teens) and illness-prone child, but she was always in motion.

Those of us under a certain age don't know polio as a killer and crippler of children. When Wilma was five years old, she contracted the deadly disease. Although her family was undoubtedly thankful that she survived, they were grieved at the fact that she was permanently crippled.

Wilma's mother refused to let her daughter give up hope and be forever helpless. She could hop, so she was expected to move herself around the house. She was expected to complete her exercises, even when they were painful.

However, Wilma couldn't fight everything. She couldn't join her brothers and sisters at school, because the school refused to admit her. She continued to work at her exercises, improving so much that she was fitted for a brace.

The local school beckoned, and Wilma joined her family at school. Unfortunately, her classmates teased her about her brace. She couldn't join in their games.

When Wilma was 12, she was able to walk free of the brace (she was stricken with polio when she was five). Having studied her classmates at their schoolyard games, she knew the ins and outs of basketball. She joined the school's basketball team....leading them to the Tenneesse state championships.

Wilma's athletic gifts were noticed by recruiters at Tennessee State University. A full athletic scholarship was offered, and Wilma became the first in her family to attend college.

Her attention turned to Rome. To the 1960 Olympics.

The 1960 Olympics were a huge deal. The competitions were being televised for the first time, to an audience of over 100 million people. Wilma had earned a place on the US track and field team. She also earned herself a sprained ankle before her races.

This story of the Olympic champion and world record smasher is joyful and inspiring. Wilma Rudolph is a shining example of the athlete as role model; courageous, motivated, determined, and community oriented. Wilma Unlimited is a fantastic biography for grades 3 and up.

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