This remarkable athlete's career perhaps has no equal. While other great athletes excelled in individual sports, none had the versatility or longevity as Didrikson-Zaharius. Even the legendary Jim Thorpe could not rival her accomplishments.
She once was quoted as saying, "The Babe is here. Who's coming in second?"
Born Mildred Ella Didrikson on June 26, 1914, in Port Arthur, Texas, she was nicknamed Babe after hitting five home runs in one baseball game. She was slim and of average height but had a muscular body and was exceptionally well coordinated.
Didrikson's best sport was basketball, which was the most popular women's sport of the era. During her years in Beaumont, her high school team never lost a game -- largely because of her aggressive, coordinated play.
Didrikson was also outstanding in volleyball, tennis, baseball, diving and swimming.
In February 1930, the Casualty Insurance Company recruited Didrikson to play for the company's Golden Cyclone basketball team in Dallas. Though still a teenager, she was selected as an All-American women's basketball player from 1930 to 1932 and led the Golden Cyclones to the national championship in 1931.
She often scored 30 or more points in an era when a team score of 20 for a game was considered respectable. Once she even scored 106 points in a game!
While in Dallas, she competed in other athletic events, including softball. Didrikson was an excellent pitcher and batted over .400 in the Dallas city league.
Also in 1930, she became a member of the Golden Cyclone track and field team. Between 1930 and 1932, Didrikson held American, Olympic or world records in five different track-and-field events.
She stunned the athletic world on July 16, 1932, with her performance at the national amateur track meet for women in Evanston, Illinois. Didrikson entered the meet as the sole member of the Golden Cyclone team and by herself won the national women's team championship by scoring 30 points.
The Illinois Women's Athletic Club, which had more than 20 members, scored a total of 22 points to place second. In all, Didrikson won six gold medals and broke four world records in a single afternoon.
Her performance was the most amazing feat by any individual, male or female, in the annals of track-and-field history. Victories in the javelin throw, hurdles, and high jump qualified her to enter the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
At Los Angeles, Didrikson won two gold medals and a silver medal, set a world's record, and was the co-holder of two others. She won the javelin event and the 80-meter hurdles and came in second in the high-jump event amid a controversy that saw two rulings of the judges go against her because she went over the bar head first, a foul at that time.
Due to her performances in track and field, she was voted Woman Athlete of the Year in 1932 by the Associated Press. During her illustrious track and field career she would be entered in 634 events and win all but 12.
She returned home from Los Angeles and had started another basketball season with the Golden Cyclones when the Amateur Athletic Union disqualified her from amateur competition because her name appeared in an automobile advertisement.
Her family was badly in need of money, and Didrikson turned professional in late 1932 to earn what she could from her status as a sports celebrity. She did some promotional advertising and briefly appeared in a vaudeville act in Chicago, where she performed athletic feats and played her harmonica, a talent she had developed as a child.
Struggling to make a living as a professional athlete, Didrikson played in an exhibition basketball game in Brooklyn and participated in a series of billiard matches.
In 1933, she decided to barnstorm the rural areas of the country with a professional basketball team called Babe Didrikson's All-Americans. The tour was very successful for several years, as the team traveled throughout America playing against local men's teams.
In 1934, Didrikson went to Florida and appeared in major league exhibition baseball games during spring training. In one game she pitched to and struck out the famous Joe DiMaggio.
She toured and played on the famous House of David -- all the men on the team sported long beards -- baseball team on a nationwide tour. She could throw a ball 300 feet on a straight line.
In 1933, she also began intensive lessons in golf, often hitting balls until her hands bled. She played in her first tournament in Texas in 1934 and a year later won the Texas Women's Amateur Championship. That same year, the United States Golf Association (USGA) declared her a professional and banned her from amateur golf.
Unable to make a living from the few tournaments open to professionals, Didrikson toured the country with professional golfer Gene Sarazen, participating mainly in exhibition matches.
On December 23, 1938, Didrikson married George Zaharias, a professional wrestler. Zaharias became her manager and under his direction she won the 1940 Texas and Western Open golf tournaments.
Also in 1940 she agreed to abstain from professional athletics for three years in order to regain her amateur status. In 1943, the USGA restored her amateur standing.
In 1945, she played flawless golf on the amateur tour and was named Woman Athlete of the Year for the second time.
During the 1946-1947 seasons, Zaharias won 17 straight tournaments, including the British Women's Amateur in which she became the first American to win it since it's inception. This string of consecutive tournament victories is a record that has never been equaled by man or woman.
In the summer of 1947, Zaharias turned professional once again and in 1948, she helped organize the Ladies Professional Golfer's Association (LPGA) in order to help popularize women's golf and increase tournament prize money. During the next several years, the LPGA grew in stature and Zaharias became the leading money winner on the women's professional circuit.
In the spring of 1953, doctors discovered that Zaharias had cancer. She underwent a colostomy to remove cancerous tissue.
Zaharius played in a golf tournament only 14 weeks after the surgery. She played well enough the remainder of the year to win the Ben Hogan Comeback of the Year Award.
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, doctors diagnosed that the cancer had returned. She died in Galveston on September 27, 1956.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias was a remarkable woman and her place in American sports history is secure. In addition to her six Woman Athlete of the Year Awards, the Associated Press named her the Woman Athlete of the Half-Century in 1950. No other woman has performed in so many different sports so well.
She is surely the greatest woman athlete of all time and perhaps the greatest athlete of any gender in the 20th century.