Babe Didrikson: Humble beginnings
Mildred Ella Didrikson was born 26 June 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas. She was the sixth of seven children born to Norwegian immigrants. Her mother was an accomplished skater in Norway prior to immigrating to the United States. Her father was a seaman and a carpenter. She displayed athletic ability at an early age. Together her parents supported her athletic development. Her family was not wealthy, so they provided what they could. Her father made wooden rustic gymnastic equipment for her in the backyard, which she used during childhood. A hurricane forced the family to move from Port Arthur to Beaumont.
From Beaumont to the Olympics
She attended Beaumont High School, where she excelled at a number of sports, including volleyball, tennis, baseball, basketball, and swimming. Although she was athletic, she was not popular with her peers. Didrikson studied enough to pass her courses and to remain eligible for athletic competition. She devoted her time and attention to her athletic endeavors. Didrikson's best sport was basketball. During her time at Beaumont High School, the girls basketball team never lost a game. She excelled enough to gain the attention of an employer her drafted her on graduating in 1930.
The company's semiprofessional basketball team went on to make to the finals twice and win the championship once during her time with them. Her performance inspired the company to expand the women's athletic program to include track and field. Babe excelled at the track and field competitions as well. She managed to break several world records and made the 1932 United States Olympic team.
At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, she broke three world records. Her performances resulted in her receiving two gold medals and one silver medal in the competition. Her superior performance incited questions about her gender and her femininity from her critics. When she returned to Texas, she was given a heroine's welcome in Dallas. She began preparing for another season with her basketball team. Prior to the season beginning, she was disqualified from amateur athletics due to her name appearing in a automobile commercial. Her disqualification was a setback. With her family in financial hard times related to the depression, she decided to enter professional sports.
Babe Zaharias Quotes
She was named "Top Woman Athlete of the Century" by the Associated Press in 1999, she excelled at every sport she tried and proved that women could play the same games as men.
"My main idea in any kind of competition always has been to go out there and cut loose with everything I've got," she explained. "I've always had the confidence that I was capable of winning out."
"Winning has always meant much to me," Didrikson said, "but winning friends has meant the most."
Enter George Zaharias
Babe tried her hand at various sports and other venues. She tried vaudeville, barnstorming, billard playing and other activities. Along the way, she became accomplished with the harmonica. She was eventually introduced to golf, which was a sport that accommodated women at that time. She was determined to excel at the sport. She was known to hit balls while practicing until her hands were bleeding. She excelled at golf and managed winning several tournaments. It was while golfing she met George Zaharias, a professional wrestler and sports promoter. The two of them married, and he began managing her career. The two never had any children, although they attempted adopting, but were denied.Together they made their home in Tampa, Florida.?
Babe turned professional in 1947, and became a founder of the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association). She became a leading money winner prior to her initial bout with cancer. After surgery for her cancer, physicians commented that she would not be able to golf again. She maintained a determined attitude. "When you get a big setback like that, there's no use crying about it," she said about her diagnosis. "You just have to face your problem and figure out what to do next." Not only was she determined, she had integrity. On one occasion she penalized herself two strokes when she accidentally played the wrong ball. "Why did you do it?" asked a friend. "No one saw you. No one would have known the difference." "I would have known," replied Babe Zacharias, a champion of integrity.
She recovered from her initial bout with colon cancer and was golfing again fourteen weeks later. As her strength improved, she went on to win several tournaments. She won 17 tournaments in a row, which is a record that no one has surpassed. By 1950, she had won all the available golf titles open to women. Eventually her cancer spread and she died at the age of 45 in 1956.Among her accomplishments was winning 82 golf tournaments,which includes professional and amateur venues.
She was buried in Beaumont, Texas. The Babe Didrkson Zaharias museum is located there which contains memorabilia concerning her life and accomplishments. The museum opened in 1976. She wrote an autobiography and there was also a movie (The CBS movie, Babe) made about her life (1975).