Written by Kingsley Armstrong
One of the women that has inspired me most over my Christian life was born over 70 years ago in Clarksville, Tennessee, USA, into a black Christian Family. She was the 20th of 22 children; premature weighing 41⁄2 lbs. She developed polio and became crippled in one leg and could not walk.
Her name was Wilma Rudolf.
Her parents took her to therapy, but there was little hope. She asked her parents if she would ever walk. They told her that if she believed, all things were possible. She started to try and walk and on her twelfth birthday, she surprised her parents when she walked around the Doctor’s surgery without any assistance. The Doctor couldn’t believe it but she never wore the braces again!
She wanted to play basketball. One day she went to the coach of the basketball team and said to him, “Sir, if you will give me an extra 10 minutes every day, I will give you a world-class athlete.” He laughed but realised that she was serious and he half-heartedly agreed to give her some extra time. So she played and showed tremendous athletic skill and courage and soon she was one of the team’s best players.
The team went on to the State Basketball Championships and one of the referees at the tournament noticed that she had exceptional ability and speed and asked her if she had ever run track events and she hadn’t. The referee was also the coach of the internationally famous ‘Tiger Belles’ track club. She trained and started winning races and at the age of 16, she was one of the top runners in the USA.
She qualified for the Olympics in Australia and she won a bronze medal as anchor leg for the 400m relay. She wasn’t happy with that and she worked hard for the next 4 years and in 1960, at the Olympics in Rome, Wilma Rudolf won the 100m, the 200m and the 400m Relay!
Her greatest achievement, however, was probably not her athletic prowess. Wilma insisted that her homecoming parade in Clarksville, Tennessee, be open to everyone and not a segregated event. Her victory parade was the first racially integrated event ever held in the town. The very first time that black people and white people celebrated together in her town. She continued to protest in the city until the segregation laws finished.
She died from brain cancer on November 12th 1994 in her home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Her tenacity in the midst of adversity is what has inspired me. To run when everything said it was impossible is amazing. Her fight against racism also has made an indelible mark in USA history, especially in the South. Her faith marked her life as evidenced by her association with Dr. Billy Graham. When her body must have been crying out to stop, she kept going!
So what exactly was my problem again?
Kingsley Armstrong is the founder of J16 - The Joshua Project, a ministry that seeks to help others discover their God-given calling. He is also the President of International Gospel Outreach, a Fellowship of Ministers and Christian Workers in many countries across the globe. His passion is world mission and he is married to Cathy with 2 children, Jemima and Isaac. He lives in Northallerton, North Yorkshire in the UK.