The first woman in polo history to win the U.S. Open died February 26.
Hale competing at the 2016 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. (Kaylee Wroe photo)
Sunset “Sunny” Hale, the first woman in polo history to win the U.S. Open in a male-dominated sport, died February 26 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Hale, 48, a part-time Wellington, Florida, resident, died due to complications from cancer at Norman Regional Hospital.
Her passion for polo was felt by all who knew her. Her warmth and tireless energy inspiring others throughout the world will live on through her legacy.
The world’s greatest women’s polo player founded the Women’s Championship Tournament that opened the door and broke down barriers for other girls and women to pursue their passion. She helped revive the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011.
Because she helped promote and build the sport among women, it is the fastest growing sector in polo around the world.
In 2000, Hale, a member of the Outback team, was the first woman to have won the 26-goal U.S. Open, the sport’s most prestigious event and to achieve a five-goal handicap rating, the highest handicap a woman has ever received among male players. She later created a rating system for women at all levels. She also improved resources regarding polo ponies by starting the American Polo Horse Association, a website where players and owners can collect, preserve and record horses’ pedigrees.
“It is fantastic how far women have come in polo,” Hale said recently. “In polo, we have one of the most unique opportunities that women can play on an equal basis as men.”
Hale was a motivational speaker, travelling around the world not only talking to polo players and coaches, but major corporations and businesses. She shared her inspiring journey of success and acceptance in a male-dominated sport.
She is recognized by both men and women as the most accomplished and well-liked woman polo player in the world. She was hired to play by the best patron and male players, including top-ranked Adolfo Cambiaso of Argentina, for more than 20 seasons. She became the first woman to be named Most Valuable Player in several high-goal tournaments.
Hale has been a role model for future generations of female polo players. She started writing books to share what she has learned along the way to the top of her profession.
In 2012, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and has earned the Woman Polo Player of the Year title an unprecedented seven times. Hale has been featured in Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and ESPN.
She is survived by her father, Alexander Hale; sisters, Stormy and Dawn; brother, Trails; and her dear friends JoAnne and Dale Smicklas of Norman, Oklahoma.
Funeral arrangements are pending, with a celebration of life being held at a later date in Florida. Those close to her have asked to respect her family’s wish for privacy as they mourn her loss. In lieu of flowers, please donate to a charity of your choice or help individuals in need.
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