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Environment changes the person, or visa versa?

November 19, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

"Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us." - Wilma Rudolph

Born premature.

The fifth of eight children (her dad had 11 children from a previous marriage).

Polio at 4.

Fitted with metal leg brace at 5.

Wore brace on left leg until 11.

Scored 803 points in her sophomore basketball season in 25 games, a state record.

All that and Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during the Summer Olympics.

At age 20, she won the 100 (11.0), 200 (23.4) and 4x100 relay in the 1960 Games in Rome. She teamed with Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones to win the relay in 44.5.

She earned a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia in the 4x100 relay.

"When I was about 5, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get my braces off," she told the Chicago Tribune. "And you see, when you come from a large wonderful family, there's always a way to achieve your goals, especially when you don't want your parents knowing them. I would take off my braces, then station my brothers and sisters all through the house and they would tell me if my parents were coming and then I'd hurry and put the braces back on."

She was driven to therapy once a week for almost six years by her mother in a 90-mile roundtrip.

"By the time I was 12," she told the Chicago Tribune, "I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything."

At 16, she went to Australia.

Rudolph told the Chicago Tribune: "I remember going back to my high school this particular day with the bronze medal and all the kids that I disliked so much or I thought I disliked put up this big huge banner: 'Welcome Home Wilma.' And I forgave them right then and there. ... They passed my bronze medal around so that everybody could touch, feel and see what an Olympic medal is like. When I got it back, there were handprints all over it.

"I took it and I started shining it up. I discovered that bronze doesn't shine. So, I decided I'm going to try this one more time. I'm going to go for the gold."

So, at age 5, what was her potential?

At 10?

At 12?

I would take an educated guess that, at age 13, the thought of running in the Summer Olympics did not enter her head.

At age 5, 10, Rudolph just wanted to be normal.

At 12, she just wanted to beat the boys in any athletic event.

Did the environment change the person or did the person change the environment?

At age 13 Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm and nearly her life in a shark attack.

One month later she was back in the water re-learning something that was as natural as waking up.

Two years later she won the Explorer Women's Division of the NSSA National Championships.

Did the environment change the person or did the person change the environment?

At age 12, Jason Lester was hit by a car and, among other things, suffered a paralyzed right arm.

Today, decades later, he is a world-class endurance sports champion.

Did the environment change the person or did the person change the environment?

Anthony Robles was born without a right leg.

He began his wrestling career in high school as a 90-pound freshman and wasn't very good.

He ended his collegiate wrestling career as the NCAA champion at 125 pounds for Division I Arizona State.

Did the environment change the person or did the person change the environment?

I sincerely hope the Edison Local Board of Education has a plan to replace Mike McKenzie other than, "We wanted him out and we'll see who applies for the job."

The way he was "renewed" last year was terrible and this year just proved that something other than a playoff appearance meant that the school board "was going to go in a different direction."

And, I contend, a playoff appearance would not have changed one mind.

I was on the sidelines a lot and listened to "fans" in the stands.

I am telling the parents, if your children heard what you yelled, they would be embarrassed.

My father always told me the only difference between Little League parents (and soccer parents now) and football parents was that the football players couldn't hear what was being said because they were wearing helmets.

McKenzie is a really good football coach.

That was evident this year when, down almost 30 players from a year ago, his squad went through a ton of adversity and those kids never quit on the field.


If that team had quit, I could see calling out a coach.

But, they didn't.

They beat Martins Ferry and took an eight-win Bellaire team to the final play.

They also had their share of disappointments, but, that's part of sports, part of life.

"Kick it deep."


Of everything McKenzie said two weeks ago, I found these two quotes the most telling.

"I'll miss the parents who supported our program. We had some very good parents behind us."


"I'm going to miss being around kids and coaches. They were all a lot of fun to be around."

McKenzie is a class act who never made excuses.


Former Edison three-sport standout Mark Smyth tweeted of McKenzie on Nov. 5, "Great guy. Very good coach. Very honored to have played for him."

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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