Twenty years after winning three gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Wilma Rudolph is still running, only now it's to make airline connections, catch cabs, and arrive on time for appointments.
Her days are often crammed with interviews and personal appearances. Opportunities to catch her breath are rare, yet the poise that served her so well as a sprinter is now fully utilized in the business world.
Rudolph is a one-woman corporation. Mainly she's into doing public relations work and giving motivational talks.
"I work for various companies, but I have my own identity -Wilma Unlimited," she explains.
And how long did it take to decide on that name?
"Not long," she answers. "I do so many things, why limit myself? The name 'Wilma Unlimited' allows me to house all sorts of things under it."
Recently she zipped in and out of Boston on a whirlwind promotional tour for Minute Maid, which has played an active role in recognizing US Olympians forced to pass up the games.
Wilma is in such demand that she maintains an apartment in New York "to cut down on traveling," while calling Hendersonville, Tenn., home."I have a great love for Tenessee, and it doesn't matter where I go or how long I stay, I have to get back."
Her roots and family are there. Wilma, in fact, has four children, who are living with her mother, while a brother and sister are right next door.
Yolanda, her oldest daughter, will soon be graduating from Tennessee State, where Wilma's track career once blossomed under Coach Ed Temple. For a time Yolanda ran for the Tigerbelles, but has since given up the sport.
"She never developed the love for track that I had," Wilma says. "I think she would have if the press hadn't compared the two of us. That made it difficult for her."
Djuana, the next oldest child at 16, has wisely channeled her efforts into the field events, where she's not so easily measured against her mother. "Djauna may turn out to be a decent long jumper or high jumper," Wilma volunteers. "If she doesn't, that's fine, too, just as long as she's being productive and doing well in her studies."
Next come Robert, a 6 ft. 2 1/2 in. 14-year-old who is a promising basketball player, and son Zurry, the "baby" at nine.
As busy as Wilma is, she doesn't neglect her children. Indeed, she points with pride to her selection as a National Mother of the Year. Though on the road three weeks out of the month, she makes sure her travels include frequent stops in Tennessee, which in turn are supplemented by frequent phone calls.
The hectic schedule provides so little time to relax that the stylish former Olympian hardly ever slips into play clothes anymore. Occasionally she fits in a doubles tennis match or some racquetball, but her running is limited to jogging once a week, if that.
The public, however, will continue to remember her as the willowy heroine of the Rome Olympics. At the age of 16 she won at bronze in a relay at the '56 Melbourne games, but it was four years later that she really burst into prominence with firsts in the 100-and 200-meter dashes and the 4x100 meter relay. Her story, chronicled in a book that was later turned into a TV movie, is now familiar to millions. One of 22 children of a poor black family, Wilma overcame a crippling childhood illness to achieve international acclaim.
Today she retells her inspiring story all over the country. Whether lecturing on college campuses or giving a high school commencement address, her mission is to motivate. "Whatever the topic, it's all motivation," she says.
In many regards, her activities parallel those of Jesse Owens, a close friend who shared Wilma's love for children. "Jesse had agreat influence on my life," she indicates. "He never really let me grow up and always counseled me like a daughter. One thing he said I could never do was make a cigarette commercial, and I never will.