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Profile of the Day: Babe Didrikson Zaharias

On this day in 1911, American athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias was born. Considered one of the greatest athletes of all time, Zaharias was an Olympic gold medal winner and excelled in the sports of golf, basketball, baseball, and track and field.

Image: Babe Didrikson Zaharias / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

She was born Mildred Ella Didrikson on June 26, 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas to Ole Didriksen and Hannah Olsen, both Norwegian immigrants. From an early age, Zaharias showed a gift for sports and earned the nickname “Babe” after hitting five home runs during a childhood baseball game.

From 1930 to 1932, Zaharias played for the Golden Cyclones, an amateur basketball team sponsored by her employer, and helped lead them to win the AAU Basketball Championship in 1931. She next turned her attention to track and field, breaking four world records at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, California. She earned gold medals in the 80m hurdles and Javelin throw and silver in high jump. Zaharias is the only track and field athlete to win individual Olympic medals in a running, throwing, and jumping event.

She later set her sights on professional golf and became a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Over the course of her career in golf, Zaharias won a total of 82 golf tournaments, including 10 LPGA major championships. In 1953, Zaharias was diagnosed with colon cancer and forced to undergo emergency surgery. She made a comeback in 1954, winning the U.S. Women’s Open by a record of 12 strokes. Sadly, Zaharias died of cancer on September 27, 1956 at the age of 45. At the time of her death, she was still a top-ranked female golfer.

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