“My goal was to be the greatest athlete who ever lived”
~ Babe Didrikson Zaharias
An all but forgotten athletic legend, Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, known as the “The Babe” is said to have been one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. At a time when women were not viewed as legitimate athletes, Babe dominated not just in one sport but in multiple disciplines and even competed in the 1932 Olympics. She was known to compete in baseball, basketball, track and field, and also a bit in tennis, bowling, and wrestling. However, Babe is possibly best known for her outstanding achievements in golf. She was the first woman to ever compete against men in the PGA tour, as well as the first American to win the British Women’s Amateur Championship. Due to Babe, the L.P.G.A was formed along with its thirteen other female founders. The Babe is not revered just for her gold medals and world breaking records, she is also an inspiration for her dedication, will power, and her brass attitude that was unparalleled in its time with other women athletes. Babe was not afraid to dominate , and she played the game only to win saying, “I don’t see any point in playing the game if you don’t win.” Too often women are criticized for knowing exactly what they want and then going after it. Babe’s story is a reminder that gender should not be an inhibitor to ambition. Women make great winners and champions and should not feel apologetic in their drive with labels like callous, brash, hard, or even bitch. Although, victory is even sweeter when obstacles are over come and haters are left in the dust.
Babe was prepared for the challenge of being the anomaly of a female athlete im the 1930s from her early beiginnings, where she grew up as a poor, foul mouthed Texan from Port Arthur. She was one of seven children to Norwegian immigrants . With her tall height and rough housing with the boys, Babe was an athlete in the making. At an early age, Babe discovered she had a talent for sports and she dropped out of school. At 16-18 she was recruited to play basketball for an Amateur Athletic Union for an Insurance Company where she was selected as an “All American” for three straight years from 1930-1932. She quickly became a celebrity where she went on to compete for the league at the U.S. women’s track and field championship as the lone member of her team, competing against teams of women with 15-20 members. Even as a “one-girl track team”, Babe scored enough points to take the championship. Journalists wrote that it was the greatest achievement of amateur history, and the New York Times followed, ” As far as sports are concerned, she had the golden touch of Midas.” By the time she competed in the LA 1932 Olympics , she was a superstar. Babe played in three events: javelin, hurdles, and the high jump and came home with one silver medal, two golds, and world breaking records in all events. To this day, Babe remains the only female Olympian to have won individual medals in running, jumping, and throwing contests.
Unfortunately, Babe’s success came at a hard time in the midst of the Great Depression. Jobs and money were hard to come by even for celebrity athletes. However, Babe proved to be more than just a seasoned athlete, she understood what could arise from her stardom. She used her celebrity to make money by appearing in car commercials or competing in athletic stunt events. Babe also worked as an entertainer in vaudeville performances where she brought home as much as $1,200 per week in an era where women were making mere cents an hour( Baller Alert). Even with that kind of income, Babe could not stay indoors for very long. In 1934, she turned her attention to golf and competed in the PGA tours, as the only woman , making history until 2003 when golfer ,Annika Sorenstam, won an exemption for the PGA tours in Texas. It was not Babe’s best game but with hard work and practice, she would become a supreme golfer. It was said that Babe would practice putting so hard that her hands would sometimes bleed; she was that determined.
Between 1946-47, Babe won 14 tournaments in a row, the longest winning streak in golf history. She married a pro-wrestler, George Zaharias, nicknamed, “The Crying Greek from
Cripple Creek,” yet despite this the media was still critical of her.Gossips would imply that her athletic success was because she was actually a man or that she could not partake in the other sport, “man catching.” One reporter even famously said, “It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.” This did not throw Babe off her game though, when asked about these sexist comments Babe would reply, ” I just loosen my girdle and let the balls have it.” Babe was all about the game, she was known to come to an event saying, “The babe is here. Who is going to finish second?” There is a lot to be said for someone so fearless, determined , and confident in their ingenuities as Babe.
Like many great legends, Babe’s life ended all too soon when she passed away at age fourty-five due to rectal cancer. Upon diagnosis, Babe became a crusader for her cause, bringing awareness to her cancer in the fifties which was at the time unheard of. Fifteen months after her colostomy , she competed in one last hooray of her athletic career , and she won the United States Women’s Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts. Even more remarkable, On the morning she passed, President Dwight D. Eisenhower saluted Babe in saying: “She was a woman who, in her athletic career, certainly won the admiration of every person in the United States, all sports people all over the world, and in her gallant fight against cancer, she put up one of the kind of fights that inspire us all.”
Babe was not a feminist. Her actions did not make her vessel for any type of social movement. She simply cared about the game and challenging herself in her own abilities. Babe was a pioneer in sports ; she is not just one of the greatest female athletes of all time, she is one of the greatest athletes of all time , male or female, period. Not just a champion,but a personality,as well as a fighter. Babe conducted herself like the sport , golf, that she loved so much with “coordination, “rhythm, and grace.” With that being said , Babe did not need to be lady to command respect or dignity. She was a girl that was not afraid to play in the mud and grew up to be a woman who embraced and bloomed in life’s grit. We could all take a page from the Babe, “loosen our girdle” and just roll with whatever life throws our way, while doing something we love and being the very best there is at it.