Great athletes lead their teams to victory. Legendary athletes can still win as a team of one!
June 26 is the birthday of a legendary all-around athlete: Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, known as Babe Didrikson.
She was called Babe for hitting home runs in neighborhood baseball games.
She not only shared Babe Ruth’s nickname, she had his knack for earning the spotlight and making the most of it while she was there.
Maybe her most astonishing feat was winning the US women’s track and field championships by herself.
In 1932, she showed up at the meet in Evanston, Illinois, as the only athlete on the team representing the company known as Employers Casualty.
She competed in eight of the ten events that day, but when you add in the various heats, semifinals and qualifying runs, she was part of twenty four contests in just two and a half hours.
That meant after finishing one event, she’d have to run over to start another, without much in the way of breaks, all in about 100 degree heat.
At an event where many teams were fielding teams of a dozen or more, Didrikson won five of her eight events outright, tied for first in another and broke four world records, winning the national track and field championships as a team of one.
She would go on to win Olympic gold medals, where she set more world records, led barnstorming teams of basketball and baseball players, once striking out Joe Dimaggio in an exhibition game.
She co-founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association after winning dozens of championships, and she even did vaudeville shows, where she’d play the harmonica while running on a treadmill.
No wonder she used to tell people as she arrived at events: “The Babe is here. Who’s coming in second?”
One thing she didn’t do is run a race around the block – the same block – for 52 days.
That’s what participants do in the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence Race: run around a single city block in Jamaica, Queens.
The catch is, they have to run around that same block until they’ve covered 3,100 miles.
That extreme repetition is so physically and emotionally intense that some runners say when they finally collapse into bed at night, they dream about running in circles.
Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (WomensHistory.org)
“Babe Didrikson at the 1932 Olympic Games” by Lindsay Parks Pieper, from the book Replays, Rivalries, and Rumbles: The Most Iconic Moments in American Sports
Babe Didrikson (Famous Texans)
Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence: The 3,100-mile race around a New York block (BBC)
Back Cool Weird Awesome on Patreon! It’s a lot easier than running a 3,100 mile race.
Photo via Wikicommons