Nine ahead of their time
The timing was right for Wilma Rudolph in the summer of 1960. At age 20, the sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics, in the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100 relay. More important, the Rome Games were the first to be televised, and the sight of a graceful black woman dominating the field was just the fuel for a burgeoning civil rights movement. But Rudolph's subsequent activism was hardly her first display of courage. As a child, she fought off measles, whooping cough, double pneumonia and scarlet fever, even as those illnesses claimed the lives of so many others. Worst, though, was the polio that hit Rudolph when she was 6, leaving her left leg twisted and paralyzed, supported by a heavy metal brace. Her siblings (she was the 20th of 22) massaged her limbs, and her mother drove her each week to the doctors who straightened and strengthened her legs -- and by age 9, little Wilma was walking brace-free. Eleven years later, Rudolph was running faster than every other woman in the world. "I remind people," she
once said, "triumph can't be had without the struggle."