The United States Sports Academy Courage award is given to "an
individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel
in sport." Nothing could better describe the life of Babe Didrikson
Mildred Ella Didrikson was born in Port Arthur, Texas on June 26, 1914.
She adopted the nickname "Babe" in honor of baseball hero Babe
Ruth. The Babe grew up in Beaumont, Texas, a slim, athletic tomboy with a
During her years at Beaumont High, her basketball school team never
lost a game and Didrikson excelled at other sports as well - volleyball, tennis,
baseball and swimming. Never a strong student academically, Babe
dropped out of high school in her junior year and took a job with a company
that would allow her time off to compete in athletic events.
Between 1930 and 1932, Didrikson held American, Olympic, or world records in
five different track-and-field events. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games,
the Babe won two gold medals, in javelin and 80-meter hurdles and a silver medal
in the high jump. She also set a world's record, and became co-holder of two
others. She was voted the 1932 Woman Athlete
of the Year by the Associated Press, and became a favorite of the public as well
as a darling of the media.
After the glory of the Olympics, Didrikson struggled to make her living as an
athlete. She appeared briefly in vaudeville, played in some exhibition
basketball games, tried billiards and considered the fad for long-distance
swimming. She toured the rural areas with a basketball team and joined an
otherwise male baseball team for a nation-wide tour. Finally, in 1933, she
Golf became the Babe's game. Her practice schedule was grueling; she
sometimes played until her hands bled. Her progress was nothing short of
phenomenal. By 1935, she was able to win theTexas Women's Amateur Championship.
When she married wrestler George Zaharias in 1938, she gained a manager as well as a husband.
Under his direction, she continued to win tournaments until, during World War II, she gave
up professional sports for three years so she could win back her amateur
restored her amateur standing in 1943, and soon Babe Zaharias was winning one
tournment after another. In 1945, she was named Woman Athlete of the Year for the second time. During the 1946-1947 seasons,
Zaharias won seventeen straight tournaments, a record never equaled by any
player. In 1948, she went professional again and helped found the Ladies Professional Golfer's Association
(LPGA). Babe continued to be both successful and popular.
Zaharias was diagnosed with cancer and underwent radical surgery in 1953. Although many feared that her athletic
career was over, Zaharias played in a golf tournament only fourteen weeks after
the surgery. In 1954, Zaharias won five tournaments,
including the United States Women's Open, and earned her sixth Woman Athlete of
the Year Award. During 1955 her cancer returned, but she continued to play
the sport she loved in spite of severe pain. Her courage inspired millions
who followed her struggle until her death in Galveston on September
The Babe left a string of records behind her. She won the U.S. Women's Open three times, the Women's Western Open four times,
and the British Openó82 golf tournaments in all, amateur and professional.
She earned American, Olympic and World records in five other sports. Most
important, she had the courage to strive and succeed as a professional athlete
in an era that considered sports unfeminine. She played her best in
spite of prejudice, in spite of illness and in spite of personal sorrows.
Many still consider her a contender for the title "top woman athlete of the
20th century". With her strong competitive streak, surely the Babe
would be pleased.