Today's Google Doodle (March 24th) celebrates the birthday of pioneering stunt woman Kitty O'Neil, who turns 77 today.
O'Neil, who was once dubbed 'the fastest woman in the world' has been deaf since childhood but that didn't stop her from achieving any of the incredible feats she accomplished during her life.
She was born in 1946 to a Cherokee Native American mother and Irish father in Corpus Christi, Texas. Although she wasn't born deaf, multiple diseases that she contracted during her early life eventually led to the loss of her hearing.
Her mother, who went on to become a speech therapist and co-founded a school for the hearing impaired, taught O'Neill lip-reading and speech which gave her daughter a new way to communicate with others. However, further complications would threaten to scupper her dreams.
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O'Neill would go on to become a keen diver and even trained for the 1964 Olympics but caught spinal meningitis after breaking her wrist which affected her ability to walk causing her to withdraw from the trails.
After briefly trying other pastimes like water skiing and scuba diving but her true calling was in motor racing, which she took up in 1970. By the mid-1970s she had begun doing stunt work in movies and TV shows like Wonder Woman, The Blues Brothers and Smokey and the Bandit. She was the first ever woman to join Stunts Unlimited, a top organisation for the best Hollywood stunt performers.
By 1976 she had been crowned 'the fastest woman alive' after driving a rocket-powered car at the incredible speed of 512.76 miles an hour, 200mph faster than any previous records at the time. This achievement was recapped in the 1979 biopic Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story.
However, the achievement was marred in controversy as a contract had stated that she was not supposed to succeed 400mph as she had to overcome sexism and was never declared 'the fastest person alive' despite her male equivalents failing to break her record.
O'Neill also broke other speed records on water and on water skis during her career. She credited her small size of just 5ft 2' and weighing 90 pounds for being able to withstand the impact of the forces.
She moved away from stunt work in 1982 following the death of several of her peers. O'Neill passed away from pneumonia in 2018. During her remarkable career, she set 22-speed records on land and water.
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