|This is my contribution to Round Thirteen of ABC Wednesday. I am focusing on people for the fourth time, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, although I am worried that I may have exhausted some letters of the alphabet, but I’ll see how it goes!|
Born Mildred Ella Didrikson in 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, Zaharias was the sixth of the seven children of Norwegian immigrants, Ole and Hannah Didrikson.
Never a strong student, Zaharias dropped out of school and her first job was as a secretary for the Employers Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas. In reality the company wanted her to play basketball for their Golden Cyclones team which she lead to the Amateur Athletics Union Basketball Championship in 1931.
But it was in track and field that she began to make her mark. Zaharias represented the company at the AAU Championships of 1932 where she competed in eight of the ten events, winning five and tying for first place in a sixth. She set four world records in an afternoon along the way – in the javelin, 80 metre hurdles, high jump and basketball throw.
The Championships were the trials for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and unsurprisingly Zaharias was chosen to represent her country and won gold in the 80 metres hurdles and the javelin and silver in the high jump.
Immediately following the Olympics, Zaharias toured the vaudeville circuit with her All-American basketball team and even tried her hand as a pool player.
In 1935 she discovered golf, the sport that was to give her even greater fame. Zaharias soon found she had a gift for the game, but she was denied amateur status because of her previous activities. As a result she had to compete against men on the professional circuit and in 1938 she took part in the Los Angeles PGA Open, the first and last woman to do so for almost sixty years.
She missed the cut, but was paired with George Zaharias who was to become her husband eleven months later and luckily giving me my letter Z surname!
Zaharias regained her amateur status in 1942, having played no other sport for three years, and became the first female golf celebrity winning the US Amateur in 1946 and the British Amateur in 1947, the first American to do so.
She turned professional in the same year and was a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. By 1950 she had won every golfing title and a total of 82 amateur and professional career victories. And she might have achieved even more had she not died of cancer aged just forty-five.
Perhaps it was her fame that lead her to add to her own reputation. For example, she claimed that her ‘Babe’ nickname was given her after she hit five home runs in baseball as a child, like Babe Ruth. In fact her mother had called her Babe since she was a toddler, but there is no doubt that she was multi-talented as far as sport was concerned.