Wilma Rudolph was born in 1940 to a poverty stricken family in
Clarksville, Tennessee. At a birth weight of 4½ pounds, her doctors didn’t expect her to survive through the night.
She did survive — barely — yet her fight for survival was just beginning. A sickly child, Wilma battled near-fatal bouts of scarlet fever and double pneumonia by the time she was just five years old. Just as it seemed the worst was behind her and she would get to enjoy a normal healthy childhood, at age seven her legs became progressively weaker and eventually deformed. Eventually she lost the function of her left leg.
Wilma was told she would never walk again. Her doctors advised her and her mother that the most reasonable course of action was to accept Wilma’s diagnosis as a cripple as soon as possible because polio was incurable at that time, and therefore unconquerable.
As luck would have it, her mother was not a reasonable woman. She either could not or would not grasp the finality of that diagnosis. She forced Wilma to once again fight an arduous battle; a battle more fierce and enduring than she ever could have imagined. Wilma began a physiotherapy regimen that lasted up to four hours per day, week after week, month after month, year after year without pause.
The process was exhausting and painful. Results came slowly, when they came at all, and Wilma was often discouraged. But her mother didn’t give up on her; she pushed her little girl harder and farther. Wilma reluctantly resolved to push on.
Her life changed one day in church when she decided she walk unaided down the aisle. Her attempt was crude and clumsy, but she walked. From that day forth she never had to depend on vision her mother held for her. She could see it for herself.
Her determination was unshakable. Wilma Rudolph was so encouraged by her unwieldy attempt at walking that she kept at it until little by little, step by step she got better…not by much, but by just enough to keep her motivated one step after another.
Her encouragement grew to the point where she allowed herself to be influenced by a coach at her school to join the track and field team. In her first race she came in last place.
That within itself is an inspiring finish not only to that race but to the story, but it doesn’t even come close to ending there.
In 1960, Wilma Rudolph made history by becoming the first American woman to win three Olympic gold medals in within the same Olympic Games. She is remembered as one of the fastest runners in history.
Wilma never started off with Olympic aspirations, she merely wanted to take a single step and then another.
The lesson for us all is when the challenges our personal training clients face seem insurmountable, it’s not a matter of going the distance, but simply one small step beyond where they are to where they wish to be.