On this day 58 years ago, Wilma Rudolph became the first black (+ American!) woman to ever win three gold medals at a single Olympic game.
Born in 1940 as the 20th of 22 children, she weighed just 4 1/2 lbs at birth. At age 4, she contracted double pneumonia, polio, and scarlet fever simultaneously - which left her left leg paralyzed. Once a week, on her mother's day off, they made a 90-mile round trip drive to Nashville for heat & water treatment on her leg.
The coming years tested Wilma's hard work, determination, and support from her family. By age 11 she was able to walk on her own again.
Wilma competed in two Olympic games, in 1956 and 1960. She opened the door for all women to compete in track & field, a previously all-male dominated event. The Italians at the Games gave her the nickname La Gazzella Negra ("The Black Gazelle"); to the French, she was known as La Perle Noire ("The Black Pearl").
She took 1st place in both the 100m and 200m dash and she ran the anchor in the 4x100 relay. Graceful, fast, and slender, the powerful sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as "The Tornado", the fastest woman on earth.
Although she retired in 1962, she became a widely known Civil Rights activist and women's rights pioneer - giving African American girls and female athletes around the world a role model to aspire to.