My older daughter is twelve years old. Like many girls her age, she has spent countless hours on the soccer field. She has played volleyball and run cross-country at her school. She was the catcher for her Little League baseball team. Now she is taking up fencing. My daughter is not athletically gifted nor in any way competitive, but she takes the opportunity to play sports—any sport. It’s fun, she says simply.
My daughter lives in a world that Babe Didrikson Zaharias helped to create.
Later this week, June 26, 2011, will mark the 100th anniversary of Babe’s birth. Hopefully, the occasion will bring renewed and deserved attention to a woman who ranks near the top of any list of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Although she died young, still in the midst of her career as a professional golfer, Babe’s accomplishments in sports were unrivaled. Some will never be topped, such as single-handedly claiming the team title in the 1932 national women’s track championships or winning 14 golf tournaments in a row. But far more than a natural athlete of astonishing, all-around talent, she was a woman determined to make a life in sports. In pursuing this goal, she was ahead of her time. In accomplishing it, she became one of the most influential figures in the history of American sports.
Babe was also a colorful and complicated figure, and the fullness of her personality—the talent, the drive, the spark, and the conceit—is revealed in the new biography by Don Van Natta, Jr., Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Little, Brown, 2011), winner of the 2011 USGA Herbert Warren Wind Book Award. A long-time correspondent with the New York Times and three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his journalist work, Don brings his talents as a writer to a story that is, at turns, exciting and poignant, inspiring and funny. Don’s biography of Babe is a masterly portrait of an extraordinary woman: a book that our sports-playing daughters—and sons—should read.