“I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up,” declared the scrappy girl from Beaumont. “My goal was to be the greatest athlete who ever lived.” In the eyes of many sports aficionados, Babe Didrikson Zaharias achieved exactly that.
Her first nimble forays into athletics occurred in her backyard, where her Norwegian immigrant father had built wooden gymnastics equipment. She smacked the ball so hard in sandlot baseball games that neighbor boys named her “The Babe” after Babe Ruth—an appellation she much preferred over her given name, Mildred.
She played every sport her high school offered: volleyball, tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, swimming. As the school’s basketball star, she attracted the attention of a recruiter for a company team in Dallas. Babe led his Golden Cyclones to a national championship and was named All-America basketball player for three straight years.
When her boss decided to organize a track-and-field team, Babe promptly competed in all events. She represented her team single-handedly at the AAU nationals of 1932, where she won the team championship, broke four world records, and qualified for the upcoming Olympics.
The champ stirred indignation with brash, exultant comments like “The Babe’s here! Who’s coming in second?” Yet her Texas bravado lifted the spirits of Americans suffering from the Great Depression. In the 1932 Olympics, she won gold medals for javelin and hurdles. She took silver for high jump in a disputed decision, then came home to bouquets of roses, a shower of confetti, and a welcoming band.
Barred for a time from amateur athletics, Babe cheerfully did promo tours, performed vaudeville acts, and played harmonica to support her family. After some thought, she decided to make golf her next career. She proceeded to win 82 tournaments, including every women’s golf title in existence.
The only battle Babe ever lost was to cancer. Following a colostomy, she defied medical predictions by returning to the golf circuit, but resurgent cancer claimed the life of “the world’s outstanding all-round feminine athlete” at age 45.
It’s not just enough to swing at the ball. You’ve got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it.
You can’t win them all—but you can try.
Winning has always meant much to me, but winning friends has meant the most.