Babe Didrikson Zaharias

November 25, 2012 3:52 am

Babe Didrikson Zaharias was one of the most extraordinary athletes of all time. She was a champion in basketball, track and field, and golf. She also swam, boxed, played baseball, and many other sports. In 1950, she was named the greatest female athlete of the first half of the 20th century.
Zaharias was born Mildred Didriksen in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1911. Later, she changed the spelling of her name to Didrikson. She married a wrestler, George Zaharias, in 1938 and became Mildred Didrikson Zaharias.
As the sixth child in her family, she was called “Baby.” That soon got shortened to “Babe.” Later, Zaharias claimed she also earned the nickname because she hit baseballs like major leaguer Babe Ruth. She never passed up a chance to play ball.
One day, when she was in elementary school, her mother sent her to the grocery store to buy ground beef for dinner. On the way home, Babe spotted some boys playing baseball. She dropped her purchases and joined the game. An hour later, her angry mother showed up, looking for the groceries. Babe pointed to where she’d left them. A dog was happily gobbling up the last of the beef.
After high school, Babe took a job with an insurance company. She played on the company’s basketball team and led it to a national championship in 1931.
Zaharias gained fame at the 1932 Olympic Games. She won gold medals in the javelin throw and the 80-meter hurdles, and set world records in both. She also tied for the gold in the high jump. But the judges decided she had broken the rules by going headfirst over the bar. They awarded her the silver medal instead.
In 1935, Zaharias began playing golf and was soon winning important championships in the sport. In 1949, she helped form the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), a group that runs professional tournaments for women. She won every major championship in women’s golf and helped make the sport popular for women.
Zaharias died of cancer in 1956, at the age of 45.
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