Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 77th birthday of Kitty O’Neil, once crowned the “the fastest woman in the world.” Kitty O’Neil was a legendary American stunt performer, daredevil, and rocket-powered vehicle driver who was deaf since childhood.
Kitty O’Neil was born on this day in 1946 to a Cherokee Native American mother and Irish father in Corpus Christi, Texas. When she was just a few months old, she contracted multiple diseases which led to an intense fever that ultimately left her deaf. She learned various communication modes and adapted for different audiences throughout her life, ultimately preferring speaking and lip reading mostly. Kitty O’Neil refused to see her deafness as a roadblock, often referring to it as an asset. She later found a love for diving, but a wrist injury and illness ended her chances of competing. However, she remained committed to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional athlete.
Kitty O’Neil began experimenting with high-speed sports like water skiing and motorcycle racing. A true action-lover, she also performed dangerous acts such as falling from daunting heights while set on fire and jumping from helicopters. In the late 70s, she made it onto the big screen as a stunt double for films and TV series including The Bionic Woman (1976), Wonder Woman (1977-1979), and The Blues Brothers (1980). She was the first woman to join Stunts Unlimited, an organization for Hollywood’s top stunt performers.
In 1976, Kitty O’Neil was crowned “the fastest woman alive” after zooming across the Alvord Desert at 512.76 miles per hour! She drove a rocket-powered car called the Motivator and surpassed the previous women’s land-speed record by almost 200 mph. Once she broke the women’s record by a landslide, it became evident that she could likely beat the men’s mark too. Unfortunately, her sponsors did not allow her to break the overall record as it threatened the status quo — they wanted to reserve the feat for a male driver. Legal action to fight this failed and O’Neil was never given the opportunity to break the overall record. However, this didn’t hold her back from going on to break records piloting jet-powered boats and rocket dragsters.
A biopic about Kitty O’Neil’s life, titled Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story, was released in 1979 and recaps the impressive Alvord Desert feat.
Thank you for inspiring us all to race towards our dreams, Kitty O’Neil!