Finding Wonder Woman In Wilma Rudolph

By Kamilah Aisha Moon | Feb 26, 2016
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In honor of Black History Month, espnW is running a weekly personal essay about the influence of black female athletes.

I've always admired tall, strong, Amazonian women -- well before I reached 5'11" myself. Statuesque women exude a combination of confidence, power and femininity that can't be beat.

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As an Afro-puffed, chubby-cheeked girl, I sported my Wonder Woman raincoat, lunch box and backpack everywhere. My jump rope was my golden truth lasso, and I even broke my arm three times jumping off the back porch of our East Nashville apartment in my Wonder Woman swimsuit, trying to emulate her physical feat of effortlessly leaping from buildings on the show.

At some point, the live-action comic superhero I adored became eclipsed by a real-life wonder of a woman who lived in my hometown: Wilma Glodean Rudolph. She was lithe and sinewy. Her life was a study in outrunning pain and difficulty into a hard won freedom. Wilma hurdled a bedridden childhood that included scarlet fever, polio and an early doctor's prognosis of never being able to walk.

I loved knowing that her family did everything in their power to help her, taking long bus trips back and forth from Nashville's Meharry Medical Hospital to Clarksville, Tennessee, and taking turns rubbing her twisted limbs multiple times a day until she shed those braces forever. She cherished the love she came from as the source of her strength.

Though her father was a porter and her mother was a maid, she knew how spiritually and emotionally wealthy she was to come from their devoted love, surrounded by 21 caring siblings. I come from a similar foundation of love, and like her, I never take my family's support for granted.

My parents attended Tennessee State University a few years after Wilma became track-and-field royalty. She was the most famous of the school's Tigerbelles track team led by Ed Temple, one of the most successful coaches in the university's history. A sociology professor, he had a special eye for recognizing and cultivating young black athletes. The Tigerbelles were regarded as goddesses on campus; their record of achievement in the track and field world remains unparalleled -- they were unstoppable. Coach Temple promoted unity and teamwork, instilling an incredible work ethic in the women he coached into Olympic champions.

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