If You Can Pick Up After a Crushing Defeat, and Go On To Win Again, You Are Going To Be a Champion Someday

Wilma Rudolph? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: To achieve victory you must be able to handle defeat without collapsing or becoming discouraged. No one goes through life completely undefeated. Olympic gold-medal-winning runner Wilma Rudolph once indicated that winners must be able to pick themselves up after crushing defeat. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Wilma Rudolph described in her 1977 autobiography participating in an important athletic meet in Tuskegee, Alabama when she was a teenager. She had experienced great success in competitions in the past, but at this event she did not win a single race, and she did not qualify for anything. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The lesson was, winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday. But if losing destroys you, it’s all over. You’ll never be able to put it all back together again.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1992 “Contemporary Heroes and Heroines: Book II” included an instance of the quotation within a chapter dedicated to telling Wilma Rudolph’s story. Ellipsis is present in the book text: 2

“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. . . . If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

In 2011 the quotation appeared in the “Book of African-American Quotations” edited by Joslyn Pine. 3

In 2018 the Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy delivered the commencement address at Bergen Community College. He mentioned that Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman to ever win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics, in Rome in 1960. Murphy repeated Rudolph’s words extolling resilience: 4

‘Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.’

In conclusion, Wilma Rudolph deserves credit for the inspirational words in her 1977 autobiography.

(Thanks to Mardy Grothe who included this quotation in his July 26, 2020 newsletter. His website cited the Rudolph’s autobiography.)

Notes:

  1. 1977, Wilma by Wilma Rudolph, Chapter 5: Introduction to Competition, Quote Page 65 and 66, A Signet Book: New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1992, Contemporary Heroes and Heroines: Book II, Edited by Deborah Gillan Straub, Chapter: Wilma Rudolph, Start Page 440, Quote Page 440, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, Michigan. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2011, Book of African-American Quotations, Edited by Joslyn Pine, Person: Wilma Rudolph, Quote Page 159, Dover Publications, Mineola, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2018 May 20, The Record, Bright future: Commencement speech delivered by Governor Phil Murphy to the students of Bergen Community College, Quote Page 40, Column 4, Hackensack, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)