Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Friday, 15 April 2016

Here\\\'s Why You Need To Know Who Gertrude Erdele Is...

Here's Why You Really Need To Know Who Gertrude Erdele Is...

The Debrief: What are Fridays for if not for flashbacks. In the spirit of #FBF we’d like to tell you about somebody called Gertrude Ederle. Who was she and what can we learn from her?

What are Fridays for if not for flashbacks. In the spirit of #FBF we’d like to tell you about somebody called Gertrude Ederle. ‘Why do I need to know about Gertrude?’ I hear you wondering. Well, guys, she swam the English Channel in 1926, covered in lard and petroleum to keep herself warm. She was from New York, she was the first woman to accomplish such a feat and she was only 19 when she did it! So, if your feeling a bit flat this Friday, a bit run down, if you're lacking inspiration or motiation then keep reading my friends, keep reading.



They said it was impossible. They said no woman could do it. Bookies even gave odds of six to one against her completing the swim. She was blown off course, meaning she had to swim 35 miles instead of the standard 21. And yet, she did it. Not only was she a female forerunner - she, quite literally, blew the times of all the men who had attempted the swim before her out of the water.

As The Guardian reported on August 7th 1926

‘The Channel has now been swum as follows:-

1875 Captain Webb 21h. 45m
1911 Burgess 21h. 35m.
1923 (August) Sullivan 26h. 50m.
1923 (August) Tiraboschi 16h. 33m.
1923 (September) Toth 16h. 54m.
1926 Miss Ederle 14h. 45m.

Miss Ederle began her effort at seven o’clock yesterday morning in unfavourable conditions. A strong south-west wind sprang up within an hour or so of her start from Cape Gris-nez and made a rather rough sea. She did remarkably well, however, and news received at Dover showed that after six hours’ swimming she was about ten miles off the French coast, but well to the eastward.’

This was, in fact, Getrude’s second attempt at the swim. Her first ended badly when she began to cough. Her coach assumed she was drowning. Reaching out from the support boat, he touched the swimmer - immediately disqualifying her. Ederle promptly sacked him and went back into training.

Things didn’t look good on the day of her second attempt. According to the Guardian’s reporter at the time the sea was rough, conditions were bad, but Gertrude persevered. Some of her mates made the journey alongside her in a little tug, ‘Miss Ederle was swimming alongside her tug, The Alsace, which had a party of friends and swimmers on board.’

After over 14 hours in the water Gertrude stepped ashore by the white cliffs of Dover. She had completed the crossing ‘by a superhuman effort’ as The Guardian put it at the time. On the beach supporters and well whishers gathered to celebrate her victory:

‘As the swimmer got nearer the shore visitors and residents between Kingsdown and Deal collected all the dry material they could lay their hands on to build big bonfires, which they lighted on the beach to act as a beacon for the swimmer. When Miss Ederle got to within some 500 yards of the beach the crowd had increased to thousands, and every man, woman, and child assembled became almost frantic in their excitement as it became apparent that the swimmer had succeeded...’

‘The glow from bonfires and also from the flares and searchlights exhibited on board the tugs showed the swimmer clearly with pink cap over her head and her shoulders well out of the water just finishing the last dozen or so yards which separated her from her goal. She refused all offers of help from the people, some of whom stood knee deep in the surf to assist her out. She walked out of the water remarkably fresh, and the cheering which went up must have been heard aboard ships passing up and down the Channel.’
The mayor of New York, clearly not one for hyperbole or exaggeration, compared Ederle's achievement to Moses parting the Red Sea.

Gertrude herself told Alec Rutherford of The New York Times, ‘I knew it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.’ There was then a parade through New York in her honour.

What became of Gertude in the end you might be wondering? Well, she damaged her hearing during the Channel swim, and went on to spend much of her adult life teaching deaf children in New York City to swim. She died in 2003 at the age of 98.



What can we learn from her resilience, can do attitude and success? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. Never give up and, when the going gets rough, cover yourself in lard. You got this.

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