Fitzgerald only is the second U.S. woman, after Babe Didrikson, and the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles. She was also a member of the 1980 United States Olympic team and an alternate for the 1988 United States Olympic team.
A native of Warrenton, Virginia, she grew up in nearby Dale City where at an early age she began to excel in athletics and academics. She attended the University of Tennessee on a full athletic scholarship, where she earned a B.S. in industrial engineering. While at Tennessee, she was a fifteen-time All-American and won 4 NCAA titles, including three 100-meter outdoor hurdles championships.
In 1996, Fitzgerald was honored as one of eight U.S. Olympians to carry the Olympic flag into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. Fitzgerald has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the Virginia High School Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, and the University of Tennessee's Lady Volunteers Hall of Fame.
There is a street named after Fitzgerald in her childhood hometown of Dale City. The street can be found off Dale Blvd. between I-95 and Minnieville Rd.