Alright, let’s talk about Babe.
She was born Mildred Didrikson on June 26, 1911 as the sixth of seven children to immigrant parents from Norway. As the legend goes, she received the nickname “Babe” after hitting five home runs in a childhood baseball game at a young age.
And although she was a crazy, crazy talented athlete even from her early years, she was also an incredible seamstress, singer, and harmonica player. Apparently school was never really her thing, but I think she did quite well for herself regardless.
So how talented was Babe? Let me tell you. She was a world-famous track and field star. She achieved All-American status in basketball. And she was accomplished in baseball, softball, diving, roller skating, and bowling as well.
She was so good at basketball, in fact, that she took a job as a secretary for the Employers’ Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas so that she could play basketball as an amateur on the company team. She led that very team to an AAU Basketball Championship in 1931 and then a year later, in 1932, she represented her company in those championship games again where she competed in 8 out of 10 events, won 5, and tied for 1st in a 6th. She literally won the team championship even though she was the sole member of that team.
That same year during the 1932 Olympics, Babe won two gold medals and one silver medal for track and field. She equaled the world record of 11.8 seconds in the 80-meter hurdles, and then later broke that very record and took the gold.
So after our girl Babe basically rocked the 1932 Olympics and confirmed her status as a legendary athlete, she began playing golf in 1935. This is where the fun really begins.
Babe was initially denied amateur status once, so she did something that only Babe could do. She rebelled. By playing in the Los Angeles Open, a men’s PGA tournament. She was literally the first to do this, and no other women competed in this tournament against men until nearly 6 decades later.
This was fortuitous for Babe in another way. It was at this tournament where she met her husband, George Zaharias and they married 11 months later.
Golf is the sport, believe it or not, that Babe became most famous for. She was America’s first female golf celebrity and her multitude of wins is just insane. Seriously, you don’t even want me to start that. But let’s just say that if there was a tournament, and she was allowed to play despite her gender, the girl won it. She was just. That. Talented.
In 1953, Babe was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent surgery and staged a phenomenal comeback in 1954.
But that wasn’t enough. This was Babe’s final challenge.
She succumbed to colon cancer at age 45 on September 27, 1956.
And yet, her legacy remains.
She was named the 10th greatest North American Athlete of the 20th century by ESPN (the highest ranking for women on that list) and the 9th greatest Athlete of the 20th century by the Associated Press. In 1999, the AP also the Woman Athlete of the 20th century.
Despite her outrageous accomplishments, she was the subject of rude criticism for what was seen as “manliness” in an age of strict feminine guidelines.
For example, one sportswriter, Joe Williams, proclaimed that “it would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”
And despite bullshit commentary like this, Babe kept going. She kept training. She kept winning.
And this is what I love, because by the time she was finished competing, no one could deny her talent. They respected her for her accomplishments, not her gender.