Not Just Walking, But Running
When Rudolph was eleven, her family's persistence with her physical therapy, her long training without the brace, and her determination paid off: she took off the brace and was able to walk normally without it. She progressed rapidly from then on, and not only walked, but outran her peers. According to a writer in Great Women in Sports, Rudolph told a Chicago Tribune writer, "By the time I was twelve, I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything."
In seventh grade, Rudolph entered Burt High School, a new school for African American children. Everything in their community revolved around the school, and Rudolph begged her high school coach to play basketball. She was allowed to play only because the coach wanted her older sister to play. The following year, Rudolph's basketball coach, Clinton Gray, decided to invite girls who were on the basketball team to join the track team. Rudolph joined, although she continued to play basketball until the ninth grade. In her first season, at the age of thirteen, she ran five different events—the 50-meter, 75-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter, and the 4 X 100 relay. In twenty different races, she won every event.
In her sophomore year on the basketball team, Rudolph scored 803 points in 25 games, then a state record in girls' basketball, and her team made it to competition
in the Middle East Tennessee Conference championship. Although they lost in the second game of the playoffs, the championship was a pivotal event in Rudolph's life because one of the referees was also a track coach at Tennessee State University. This coach, Ed Temple, noticed Rudolph's running ability and told her that she had the talent to become a great runner. He encouraged her to attend his university when she finished high school.
In that same year, Rudolph attended her first big track meet, held at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Girls from all over the South traveled there to compete, and in this wider field of competition, Rudolph did not win a single race. The losses were devastating to her, but in the long run, made her realize that her innate talent was not enough: she also had to work to improve her training and ability. She became determined to go to the meet again the following year and beat everyone there.
The next summer, Rudolph attended a track camp run by Ed Temple, where the girls ran long cross-country distances every day in order to build up their endurance. At the end of the summer, Temple's team went to the National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet in Philadelphia. Rudolph entered nine races and won all of them. At the meet, she met and was photographed with baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Don Newcomb. Rudolph looked up to Robinson as her first African-American hero.
Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldWilma Rudolph Biography - Early Obstacles, Not Just Walking, But Running, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Wins Bronze At Melbourne Olympics - SELECTED WRITINGS BY RUDOLPH: