ROME, Italy: On September 7, 1960, Wilma Rudolph made Olympic history by becoming the first woman, not to mention the first African-American woman, to win three gold medals. Her accomplishments in track and field—taking first place in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash and in the 4x100 relay—opened the door for women and girls in previously all-male track and field events. Graceful, fast and slender, the Italian press called her La Gazzella—the gazelle.
“Gazelle” would not have been young Wilma’s nickname, however. Born in segregated Clarksville, Tennessee, on June 23, 1940, the twentieth of twenty-two children, she weighed just four-and-a-half pounds. Her parents were hardworking but quite poor. Wilma’s mother nursed her sickly child through the measles, chicken pox, double pneumonia and scarlet fever.
When Wilma’s left foot and leg drew up and turned in, the diagnosis of polio seemed final. Doctors gave the little girl no hope of ever walking without braces or crutches, if at all.
But her mother didn’t accept the doctors’ opinions. Twice a week for two years she drove Wilma the fifty miles to Nashville for treatment at Meharry Hospital, part of Fisk University, a black college. The doctors showed Mrs. Rudolph how to exercise Wilma’s muscles, and she in turn demonstrated the therapies to other family members. Everyone helped, and by age eight Wilma was not only walking unaided but playing basketball in the backyard.
Wilma joined her junior-high basketball team, but the coach didn’t put her in a single game. By her sophomore year in high school Wilma started as guard. Her performance caught the attention of Ed Temple, coach of the Tennessee State University Tigerbells, who offered her a full scholarship when she graduated. Besides guiding the basketball team to a championship Wilma also excelled at track and field, earning a spot in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, where the sixteen-year-old brought home a bronze medal in the 4x4 relay.
But it was her outstanding accomplishments in Rome that brought Rudolph fame and influence. When her hometown of Clarksville wanted to have a parade in her honor, Rudolph insisted that the celebration be open to whites and blacks, not just one or the other as was customary; the parade and dinner following were the first integrated events in Clarksville. Rudolph returned to Tennessee State and earned her B.A. in education in 1963. She was a lifelong advocate of racial and gender equality. Rudolph died on November 12, 1994, of brain cancer at age fifty-four.
Rudolph’s successful pursuit of her athletic goals, coupled with her mother’s fierce determination, serve as a testament to the body’s capacity for greatness when the power of physical energy is in harmony with one’s emotional and spiritual centers. Such alignment allows not only health and well-being but the knowledge that we can count on our bodies as a foundation for further development. In Wilma Rudolph’s case, developing her physical capabilities probably saved her life.
These levels of energy represent the layers of our “intelligences,” or the Essential IQs. According to Howard Gardner in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, humans do not have just mental intelligence—the ability for thinking and learning—but emotional, physical and spiritual intelligences: the potential for being fit, for seeing themselves through others’ eyes, for the journey toward contentment and enlightenment. I would add moral intelligence to Gardner’s list: a level of intelligence that enables not only understanding of another’s pain but the desire for justice.
The Tantric philosophy of India describes five distinct koshas, or layers of consciousness, weaving together to create our human lives. The sports psychologists Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out the value of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy in their book The Power of Full Engagement, joining Gardner in a contemporary explanation of what the yogis explained in their ancient texts: that each of us, although unique, is a bundle of intelligences that can be felt, measured and fully experienced.
I’ve distilled these principles into the Five Essential Intelligence Quotients. These five IQs—physical, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual—represent the sum total of energized living. These layers of intelligence are nested one within the other—the physical and densest layer holding the others. Each of them is a layer of consciousness, a field of quantum energy, a capacity for growth, and an often-unrealized potential. And although few of us have succeeded in maximizing even one, much less all, of our essential IQs, it’s never too late.
So just what are the five intelligence quotients anyway?
1. The Physical. Physical intelligence controls our body’s ability to stand upright, walk, turn, twist, bend and, as in Wilma Rudolph’s triumph, to run. The body’s densest layer of intelligence, it is the body we see: bones, muscles, tendons, joints, and limbs—in other words, our structures, our gross anatomy.
In Service, Alan Davidson
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Alan Davidson, founder of
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