Chances are you’ve never heard of her... but she was an Olympic gold medallist (as part of the American 4x400m freestyle swimming relay team in the Paris games of 1924). She also won two individual bronze medals at the same games... although she had been strongly fancied to win both events. Her talent was therefore for swimming, but her most notable feat didn’t come in a pool...
On the morning of 6thAugust 1926, Gertrude (who was often known as Trudy or Gertie) set off from Cap Griz-Nez in France on what was her second attempt at swimming the English Channel. Fourteen and a half hours later, she arrived at Kingsdown in Kent as the first woman to ever successfully swim the Channel. Not only that, but her time was two hours faster than any of the five men who had previously accomplished the feat and it would be nearly a quarter of a century before any woman improved on her record.
Even more extraordinary was the fact that due to the wind, rain and heavy sea swells to which Gertrude was exposed, she effectively covered 35 miles to complete what should have been a 21 mile swim!
Her achievement was the culmination of an American newspaper-based rivalry between Gertrude and Lilian Cannon, who were both being sponsored by different papers to swim the Channel first... Cannon failed in her attempt, as did Clarabelle Barrett; another American, Amelia Corson did complete a successful crossing, but three weeks after Gertrude – and fifty minutes slower.
Gertrude returned to a ticker-tape welcome in New York, starred (as herself) in a movie and mixed with the likes of President Coolidge. Sadly, her business affairs were badly mismanaged and she never really enjoyed the rewards her achievement deserved. Not only that, but she was seriously injured in a fall in 1933 and spent much of the next five years bed-ridden with her injuries.
By the following decade,Gertrude’s poor hearing (courtesy of childhood measles) has worsened and she became completely deaf but her love of swimming remained however and Gertrude spent many years teaching deaf children to swim.
Gertrude Ederle (1906-2003): a brave and remarkable woman...