“Babe” Didrikson Zaharias: The Greatest Athlete

Babe+Didrikson+in+1947.

Harry Warnecke

“Babe” Didrikson in 1947.

Morgan Lomax

A first-generation American, versatile athletic star, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias’ achievements exemplify the coveted “American dream.” Born on June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas, Zaharias grew up as the sixth of seven children of Norwegian immigrant parents. From a young age, it was apparent that she had an innate athletic talent. 

Zaharias’ nickname, “Babe,” is in reference to baseball legend Babe Ruth. She intended to be “the greatest athlete to ever live.” In some ways, this goal was accomplished. Zaharias excelled in all sports she tried, including baseball, softball, swimming, figure skating, billiards, football, basketball, track and field, and golf. In 1932, at the young age of twenty-one, she competed in the Olympic Games. Of her awards, she notably won two gold medals in the 80-meter hurdle, the javelin throw, and a silver medal in the high jump. Had it not been for a then unorthodox method of jumping, her performance would have won gold.

Zaharias’ golfing career was similarly extraordinary. She won a total of eighty two golf tournaments throughout her career, all in a span of ten years. As a testament to her tenacious character, Zaharias competed, and won, her third U.S. Women’s Open only months after undergoing surgery for colon cancer. Her attitude was notoriously haughty, yet Zaharias’ actions certainly support an ego. Considering the prejudiced era in which she lived, Babe Didrikson Zaharias’ athletic feats are all the more impressive.

Zaharias passed away on September 27, 1956 in Galveston, Texas. Her legacy lives on through the Ladies Pro Golf Association, an organization which she founded prior to her death. In 2021, Zaharias was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in commemoration of her spectacular athletic achievements. Her pioneering spirit and triumphs continue to resound throughout the sports world.

 

Works Cited

Michals, Debra. “Mildred ‘Babe’ Didrikson Zaharias.” National Women’s History Museum,

2015, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mildred-zaharias.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Babe Didrikson Zaharias”. Encyclopedia Britannica,

14 Jan. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Babe-Didrikson-Zaharias.