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Book to focus on legend Zaharias' life, achievements
New York Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner will turn his attention to sports. And his subject has strong ties to Tampa.
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published June 26, 2007
New York Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has written about terrorism and the CIA, once covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and, most recently, co-authored the much publicized book Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But on his next project, Van Natta will turn his attention to sports. And his subject has strong ties to Tampa.
In a book titled Wonder Girl, which is being researched and is scheduled for release in early 2009, Van Natta will chronicle the life of sports legend Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who lived in Tampa from 1951 until her death at age 45 in 1956.
"She really is a forgotten superstar, " Van Natta said via telephone. "I want to introduce her story to a whole new generation of sports fans - especially young women. She was such an extraordinary role model."
Zaharias' accomplishments included two track and field gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, All-American status as a college basketball standout and a sensational golf career, in which she won 82 times. Zaharias was named female athlete of the century by both the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated.
"The thing that's so amazing about her is just how versatile she was, " Van Natta said. "She could play any sport - baseball, basketball. She even picked up tennis for a while. She was a natural in every sport."
Zaharias and her husband, wrestler George Zaharias, lived on a golf course in Tampa that today bears her name. As she battled cancer during the final year of her life, however, much of her time was spent in her native Texas.
This isn't Van Natta's first foray into sports. In April 2003, he published First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.
Van Natta's love for golf led him to the book on Zaharias, though she wasn't a topic idea in the beginning.
"I was talking to Rand Jerris, a historian with the (United States Golf Association), " Van Natta said. "I told him I was hunting for a subject. I was thinking about either Bobby Jones or St. Andrews, and he said, 'Why don't you write about Babe Zaharias?' I didn't know who she was, but in a matter of days I knew that would be a book I wanted to do.
"There have been other books about Babe, but none have really captured her spirit and done her justice."