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Wilma Rudolph biography

By kperri Dec 05, 2013 2600 Words
Wilma Rudolph is most well-known for her extreme success in track and field. What is most ground-breaking about Wilma and her success is the fact that she was a woman succeeding in what was considered at that time a “man’s sport.” She broke many records, but most importantly was the first American woman to win three gold medals during the same summer Olympics. Wilma had faced many troubles throughout her life, from illness and disabilities to insecurities and friendship issues. However, the most difficult time in her life was not the obstacles she overcame to reach her success but the point in her life after all of that- the point when she went back to reality. Throughout this paper I will discuss how the bio-social-psycho-spiritual-cultural framework had affected Wilma throughout her lifetime, ultimately influencing the person she turned out to be. Although I will touch upon her childhood and teenage years, the point of my paper is to identify just exactly how those periods of time in her life affected her throughout her mid-adulthood phase until her death in 1994.

The first part of the framework suggests we look at Wilma’s biological past to help understand the person she became. When Wilma was born, she was the 20th out of 22 children in the Rudolph family. She had a very difficult childhood, bouncing back and forth from illness to illness. Throughout her childhood, she was diagnosed with double pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio. When Wilma was six years old, she was diagnosed with infantile paralysis caused by the polio virus. At that time, doctors had told her that she would never walk again without the aid of braces. However, Wilma was determined to prove everyone wrong and walk on her own. By the age of twelve, Wilma could freely move and walk around without the aid of her leg brace. After that point in her lifetime, nothing major (from a biological standpoint) occurred until she was a senior in high school and got pregnant by her long-time boyfriend, Robert Eldridge. At this point in her life, she was training with a college track coach during the summer and could not handle the responsibilities of a child just yet. Luckily, her older sister Yvonne (who was already married with a child of her own) offered to look after the baby until Wilma was ready for motherhood. This allowed Wilma to continue living her normal life without have to make and sacrifices.

Wilma experienced a very financially poor childhood. She was among 21 other siblings and her parents only lived off a teacher’s salary. During the time of her leg brace, Wilma was homeschooled because of her disability. It was not until the first grade that her parents considered admitting her to a real school. After overcoming her disability, she decided that when she reached high school she wanted to follow in her sisters footsteps and join the school basketball team. During freshmen year she excelled in basketball and track, and it was at that point that she first received interest from Tennessee State’s track coaches. Because of her raw talent, Tennessee coach, Edward Temple showed a lot of interest in Wilma, enough for her to try out for the 1956 Olympics.

After becoming a qualifier for the Olympics, she became close friends with Mae Faggs, an older runner on her Olympic team. Mae was a great influence on Wilma and really helped her mentally and physically prepare for the Olympics. Despite all of Coach Temple’s and Mae’s help, Wilma did not place at the 1956 Olympics. After the Olympics were over and she returned home, she decided to pick up her son and have him live with her again. She realized that spending time with her family was just as important as anything else in her life at that time. At this point she was juggling a boyfriend, a child, college school work, track, and her grief over disappointment from the past Olympics.

Because of Wilma’s natural talent and success in high school, her first loss at a big meet was devastating. She had travelled to Philadelphia for a National AAU Track Meet, and became overconfident. She was shocked when she did not win and returned home with “shame of losing.” She felt embarrassed of losing and felt as if she had let herself down. It was at that point she realized that the success she could obtain through track and field was in her hands, which only motivated her to train harder. Once qualifying for the Olympic team, she also experienced some psychological challenges. She was such a good runner at such a young age that she would hold back at Olympic practices in order to keep the other girls on the team from becoming jealous of her. She felt very torn, whether or not to excel at practice and work hard or hold on to friendships. She finally got over her fear of losing friends over hard work and decided to run for herself. One of her biggest psychological upsets, however, was after the 1956 Olympics when she did not qualify for the finals in the 200 meter dash. She could not eat or sleep for days and felt as though she let down the entire United States. She was determined that the next day she would run harder and make up for that. Fortunately, by the end of the Olympics, her 400 meter relay team had surprisingly placed third and came back home with a bronze medal.

Wilma was born in Clarkesville, Tennessee in 1940. During this time, she experienced the wrath of segregation. The school she attended was just for blacks and did not compare to the nicer school for white children. Growing up, religion was important to Wilma and her family but did not play a huge role her development throughout life and her accomplishments. Her family was very religious and were practicing Baptists.

As a child and teenager, Wilma lived anything but an ordinary life. At the age of 6 she was told she would never walk again without a brace. By the age of 12 she defied those odds and successfully walked on her own. By the time she reached high school she was on the school basketball team and track team. By the age of 16 she was competing in her first Olympics games. And by her senior year she had a child of her own. All of these components helped to develop Wilma into the person she grew up to be.

Her biggest obstacles occurred after her fame and fortune, when she got home and back to real life. When she arrived home from the 1960 Olympics, she was welcomed by the whole town of Clarkesville, Tennessee. It was the first time in Clarkesville history that white and black townspeople came together to celebrate. After returning home and spending time with her family, she immediately began to travel the world meeting new people and starring in more races. She became the first woman invited into meets previously only participated by males. However, at this time it was very unlikely for a woman, let alone a black woman athlete, to have a manager. Therefore, Wilma did not make any money off of any of the appearances she made or races she competed in. When she finally returned home from travelling, she was hit with the harsh reality of the real world- she was broke. Wilma decided the best thing for her to do was to go back to college to get her degree in elementary education.

After she graduated college, she married her longtime boyfriend Robert Eldridge. She got a teaching job at the elementary school she attended as a child and coached track and field at Burts High School. Still, this did not help her financial situation. A few months later, she decided to leave her job as a teacher and within a few years became pregnant with two more children. After that, she bounced back and forth from job to job; unsatisfied with every one she tried. She could not find that same satisfaction that she felt from track and field- nonetheless find a job that would help ease her money troubles.

In 1967, Vice President Hubert Humphrey asked Wilma to join “Operation Champ,” a government sponsored program that trained young inner-city athletes. Wilma once again traveled to many cities but still did not find that satisfaction she was searching for. Once she got back, she continued to bounce from job to job again until she finally decided to start her own business. Her business was named “Wilma Unlimited” and allowed her to travel, lecture, and support special causes. Through this company, she inspired many young African American athletes. In 1977 she wrote her own book and filmed a movie about her life. In 1981 she started the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a foundation dedicated to nurturing talented young athletes. She worked hard to promote women’s sports in America and lobbied to pass Title IX. Among many other awards throughout her lifetime, she was honored with the National Sports award from President Bill Clinton in 1993. Unfortunately, Wilma died at the young age of 54 from cancer on November 12, 1994.

Wilma’s adult life would have built to nothing if it not had been for all of the experiences she lived through in her childhood. She learned strength, endurance, and patience not only on the track but in her life as well. She did not experience the most difficult times in life until after she had accomplished many goals for herself. It took true commitment for her to succeed in life after she returned home from the Olympics. Everything she did and experienced throughout her lifetime greatly affected the person she turned out to be. She grew into an amazing and influential woman who is not only known for her three gold medals in the same summer Olympics, but she is known for the legacy she has left behind in women’s sports and the rest of the world.

According to our textbook, “Lawrence Kohlberg has proposed a series of three levels, and six stages, through which people progress as they develop their moral framework” (Zastrow, 2007).The first level, called the Preconventional Level, is primarily concerned with self-interest. The first stage of this level deals with how a person can avoid punishment. It is in this level that a person (however, most of the time this level is applied to children) will act on the basis of knowing what actions will constitute some sort of punishment. Stage two is more self-interest driven. A person will think in terms of reward for themselves, by asking the question “what’s in it for me”. In this level a person will act in their best interest. These stages, related to Wilma Rudolph’s life do not hold a high level of significance. There are not too many points in her life that were highlighted in her biography that were linked to these two stages. I can imagine, however, that growing up in a household with 21 other children would take away from both of these stages. I doubt that Wilma was punished by her parents very often since they had to focus on so many other children as well. On the other hand, she probably had many of her older siblings to look after her, who I’m sure gave her a hard time when she did something wrong.

The second level, the Conventional Level, usually is applied to people from the ages of 10 to 13 (Zastrow, 2007). Incorporated in this level are yet two more stages. Stage three is based on the approval of others and fulfilling social roles. During this stage, a person tries to live up to the expectations set for the “good boy” or “good girl” that they are trying to be. A high level of acceptance among others is what a person is ultimately striving for in this stage. I believe this stage directly reflects the point in Wilma’s life when she made the Olympic team for the first time. During that time in her life, she was much younger than many of the other women on the team and would hold back in practice as to not embarrass them or appear as if she were superior to them. She wanted to “fit in” and be accepted by her teammates.

Stage four deals more with obeying rules and listening to authority. In this stage, the individual focuses on what is right and wrong based on the laws. I believe this stage relates to the time in Wilma’s life when she was going off to college and one of her coach’s rules was no children, since they would become too much of a distraction. Following his orders, Wilma decided to send her child with her older sister who could better fulfill the child’s needs and also allowing Wilma to obey her coach.

The final level of Kohlberg’s stages of development is called the Post conventional level. The first stage of this level, stage five, is concerned with the welfare of the community. Although the previous level focused on the importance of laws, this stage says that laws are also open for interpretation and that the welfare and state of the community is just as important as following laws. I believe this describes the point in Wilma’s life after she had won at the Olympics and returned home to Clarkesville for the first time. Upon her arrival, she was greeted by both white and black supporters from her community. During that time period, segregation was highly enforced and it was rare to see white and black folks together. However, they came together in support of Wilma and did what they saw was best for the community- showing their support together as a whole instead of individual races.

The final stage, stage six, revolves around the idea of acting on internal ethical principles. At this stage in someone’s life, the person is less concerned with the opinion of others and more concerned with what is right for them. I do not think Wilma ever reached this stage in her life. While I believe that she did overcome many obstacles, such as being a black, female athlete during the time of men’s sports and segregation, I do not think she achieved this highest stage in her development.

In conclusion, I believe that everything Wilma Rudolph endured throughout her lifetime had a big impact on the woman she grew up to be. All of the fame and recognition she received through her teenage years had a big hand in the development through adulthood. It was not until she grew up and came back to Clarkesville after her big success as a track star that Wilma really had to look back and put to use all of the dedication and life lessons she learned as a child. If Wilma were here today I think she would want people to remember her not for winning gold medals at the Olympics, but rather for all of the things she accomplished and all of the people she influenced as an adult. I believe she holds most valuable in her heart her ability to influence others to overcome adversity and to live out their dreams.

Flanagan, A.k. (2007). Wilma Rudolph: Athlete and Educator. Chicago, IL: Ferguson Publishing Company. Zastrow, C.H & Kirst-Ashman, K.k. (2007). Human Behavior and the Social Environment (8th Edition). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

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