Long before becoming the world's fastest female, Wilma Rudolph 1940-1994 beat her greatest odds by learning to walk on her own. As a child, Rudolph (the 17th of 21 children) was afflicted with polio, scarlet fever and double pneumonia and grew up wearing a brace on her right leg. To her doctor's shock, she removed the brace and walked unassisted at age nine. By 13 she was outracing neighborhood kids. By 16 she had qualified for the 1956 Olympics (she won bronze in the 4x100-meter relay). In Rome four years later she became a beloved figure when she won the 100 and 200 meters and in the 4x100. She never shied from a cause. She participated in sit-ins at whites-only restaurants, ran a community center and established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, which sends schools tutors and books about American heroes, a category that surely includes Rudolph.