21st October 2021

This study has been specifically written to coincide with Black History Month

Wilma Rudolph

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

‘I loved the feeling of freedom in running, the fresh air, the feeling that the only person I’m competing with is me.’1  The person quoted was born in 1940 in Tennessee, premature and weighing only four-and-a-half pounds; twenty years later, she won three gold medals at a single Olympic Games.

Wilma Rudolph had pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio as a child. The polio caused lasting effects. She suffered from infantile paralysis at five, and she couldn’t walk properly for most of her childhood. Racial segregation blocked access to medical care. Her mother had to take her to the black medical centre in Nashville, 50 miles away; every week for two years they took the bus to Nashville so Wilma could get leg treatment. By the time she was 12, she’d learnt to walk without a leg brace.

But Wilma didn’t stop at walking.

She competed for her high school track team. In her junior year, at 16, she qualified for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Team USA’s youngest member. She won a bronze medal in the 4x400m relay.

In her senior year of high school, Wilma became pregnant and had her first child. A few weeks later, she enrolled at University on a work-study scholarship. At both the Pan American Games, and at four consecutive national championships, she won medals. She ran a world-record in the 200m that stood for eight years.

The 1960 Rome Olympics was where it all came together. Wilma was 19. She won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, anchoring her team to a world record. Nicknamed ‘The Tornado’, she was an international superstar.

Wilma used her popularity for change. Returning from the Olympics, she insisted black and white people mix at her homecoming parade; they did, at the first fully integrated public event in Clarksville’s history.

Wilma retired in 1962, got a degree, and in 1963 she worked in West Africa as goodwill ambassador for the US State Department. She attended civil rights marches, protesting against racial segregation in her hometown. Wilma died at home in Nashville, 1994, having run a great race and effecting positive change with her life. Christians would refer to this as ‘the obligations of grace’.2

Let Us Pray
Heavenly Father, let us also race gratefully and gracefully through challenges like Wilma did. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Study by Andrew Montgomery

1 Black History Month: The sportswomen you should know about. By Miriam Walker-Khan, BBC Sport, October 2020

2 All the facts about Wilma Rudolph’s life in this study are taken from the above article.


About the writer:
Andrew Montgomery is a Deacon in the Edinburgh congregation of Grace Communion International.

Local congregation:
GCI Edinburgh
Gilmerton New Church
Ravenscroft Street
EH17 8QJ

Meeting time:
Saturday 11:00am

Local congregational contact:
Peter Mill
Email: edinburgh@gracecom.church

Word of Life contact: