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Wilma was born prematurely. This produced complications that resulted in her contracting double pneumonia (twice) and scarlet fever. But the worst was a bout with polio which left her with a crooked left leg and a foot twisted inward.

Metal leg braces, stares from neighborhood kids, and six years of bus rides to Nashville for treatments could have driven this young girl into a self-made shell. But she refused. Wilma kept dreaming. And she was determined not to allow her disability to get in the way of her dreams. Maybe her determination was generated by the faith of her mother, who often said, "Honey, the most important thing in life is for you to believe it and keep on trying."

By age eleven, Wilma decided to ’believe it." And through sheer determination and in an indomitable spirit to persevere, regardless, she forced herself to learn how to walk without the braces.

At age twelve she made a wonderful discovery: Girls could jump and run and play ball just like boys! Her older sister Yvonne was quite good at basketball, so Wilma decided to challenge her on the court. She began to improve. The two of them ultimately went out for the same school team. Yvonne made the final twelve, but Wilma didn’t. However, because her father would allow Yvonne to travel with the team without her sister as "chaperone," Wilma found herself often in the presence of the coach.

One day she built up enough nerve to confront the man with her magnificent obsession—-her lifetime dream. She blurted out, "If you will give me ten minutes of your time everyday-—and only ten minutes—-I’ll give you a world-class athlete." He took her up on her offer.

The result is history. Young Wilma finally won a starting position on the basketball squad; and when the season ended, she decided to try out for the track team. What a decision! In her first race, she beat her girlfriend. Then she beat all of the girls in her high school, then, every high school girl in the state of Tennessee. Wilma was only fourteen, but already a champion.

Shortly thereafter, although still in high school, she was invited to join the Tigerbelle’s track team at Tennessee State University. She began a serious training program after school and on weekends. As she improved, she continued winning short dashes and the 440-yard relay.

Two years later she was invited to try out for the Olympics. She qualified and ran in the 1956 games at Melbourne, Australia. She won a bronze medal as her team placed third in the 440-meter relay. It was a bittersweet victory. She had won—-but she decided that next time she would "go for the gold."

Wilma realized that the victory would require an enormous amount of commitment, sacrifice, and discipline. To give her the winner’s edge as a world-class athlete, she began a do-it-yourself program similar to the one she had employed to get herself out of those leg braces. Not only did she run at six and ten every morning and three every afternoon, she would often sneak down the dormitory fire escape from eight to ten o’clock and run the track before bedtime. Week after week, month in and month out, Wilma maintained the same grueling schedule for over twelve hundred days.

Now we’re ready for Rome. When the sleek, trim, young black lady, only twenty years old, walked out on the field, she was ready. She had paid the price. Even those 80,000 fans could sense the spirit of victory. It was electrifying. As she began her warm-up sprints, a cadenced chant began to emerge from the stands: “Wilma...Wilma... Wilma...WILMA!” They were as confident as she that she could win.

And win she did! She breezed to an easy victory in the 100-meter dash. Then she won the 200-meter dash. And finally, she anchored the U.S. Women’s team to another first place finish in the 400-meter relay. Three gold medals—she was the first woman in history ever to win three gold medals in track and field. I should add that each of the three races was won in world-record time.

(SOURCE: Dennis Waitley, Seeds of Greatness. From a sermon by Philip Harrelson, "A Purpose In the Heart" 1/31/2009)

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