Written by Sylvia Denice
Wilma Rudolph is one of my personal favorite Famous Hoosier Wax Museum figures. She was a runner and an elementary school teacher, so my affinity for her and her story developed almost immediately. My fourth graders are introduced to her early in the school year through our reading curriculum with a short biographical fluency read. The passage is entitled “The Golden Runner,” and I am inspired no matter how many times I read it–or listen to fourth graders reading it.
Wilma Rudolph was born premature and struggled with illnesses including pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio by the time she was four years old. Polio caused Rudolph to walk with a brace, and she experienced difficulty strengthening her foot and leg. Despite these early challenges, Wilma Rudolph persevered to become the first American and African-American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games during her participation in track at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy.
For a period of time, Wilma Rudolph lived in Indiana. She founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Indianapolis dedicated to training African-American athletes in track and other sports. In addition, Rudolph worked at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, with their track and minority affairs programs.
This year, Carmen played the role of Wilma Rudolph for our Famous Hoosier Wax Museum. “I wanted to do it,” she said. “I had like thirty people who wanted to listen. Or maybe more than thirty people! Wilma Rudolph was a famous runner in the Olympics, and she won medals. I like running, too,” Carmen noted. “She ran a lot. I don’t think she got tired,” Carmen laughed. Carmen stated Rudolph would feel, “good” and she shared we should honor, “black people we know, and famous black people, too.”