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How Gertrude Ederle was Captain Marvel of her time

Gertrude Ederle facts

Who was Gertrude Ederle? Guest writer Morgan spotlights the inspirational American who was the first woman to swim the English Channel. The amazing day was August 6, 1926.

Looking back in time

The 1920s were filled with remarkable people. The Great War was finally over and the world needed heroes that would give a positive push to the new age.

Some of the heroes of this era are Charles Lindeberg, Percy Fawcett, George Mallory, and Amelia Earhart. They all had successes that made an impact in our world and their exploits are still remembered nearly 100 years later.

However, there was one remarkable hero that did something no one else dared try. Unfortunately, the memory of her tends to fade, but she certainly was the Captain Marvel of her time.

I’m talking about Gertrude Ederle, a shy 19-year-old from New York who became the most famous woman in the summer of 1926. This was the year when Gertrude Ederle became the first woman ever to swim across the English Channel.

But not only was she the first woman to do this, but she managed to it faster than any of the five men who had done that before her. Two hours faster, to be exact.

The challenge was big

Ederle was a gifted swimmer and she represented her country in the Paris Olympics in 1924. When crossing their way from America to Paris and their ship sailed up the channel, Ederle got the idea to swim across it.

Only a year beforehand, Henry Sullivan became the first American to swim the Channel – all 21 miles that separate Dover from Calais. However, what makes this act a great challenge is the strong currents in the water that made over 1,000 failed attempts.

Among the reasons for the failed tries were the unpleasant water temperature and capricious weather. And that’s not all!

Probably the biggest challenge here were the powerful currents. the tide that shifted direction every six hours. What that meant was for anyone who would like to succeed and swim across the challenge, they would have to swim in a zigzag and change direction with the tide to do so.

Gertrude Ederle: Making history

She set up a camp on the Calais coast. She spent several weeks training and learning about the currents and how to acclimatize to the cold. To keep her company and help her train, her English coach Bill Burgess was constantly by her side.

On August 6th at 7 am, Ederle set out for England. She was wearing a specially designed two-piece swimsuit made of silk.

Also, she had three layers of grease to maintain body temperature and fight off the cold water. She was soon in the water and she quickly struck up a rate of 28 strokes per minute using her style of swimming – a powerful overarm crawl.

Remember, Gertrude Ederle was an experienced swimmer that had plenty of training, and some newer generations of athletes use swimming to boost their skills. Even runners can benefit from swimming drills and become icons in their time.

Two hours passed by and she was four-and-a-half miles north-west of her starting point. At this time she was preparing to change direction to north-east to beat the tide and make it to the middle of the Channel.

She had a support boat with her coach and sister in it. The coach handed her a bottle of chicken broth, while her sister played her favorite records on a gramophone to support and motivate her.

After five hours, Ederle had swum 11 miles, and the coast of Dover was only 10 miles to the north-west. She kept making steady progress throughout the afternoon, but then the weather turned on her.

Around 5 pm, a storm descended and waves were rocking the boat and pummeling Gertrude’s tired body.

Pushing through to the goal

The storm forced Bill Burgess to plot a new course and he told Ederle to head away from Dover using the current and go for the Kentish coast. The next four hours were a real challenge for Gertrude Ederle as she was pushing her endurance limits to battle strong seas and chilling temperatures.

But, around 9 pm, her toes touched the beach at Kingsdown. She had made it.

She then went for Dover to get her rest at the hotel. It was much deserved self-care.

Not only had Ederle become the first woman to swim across the English Channel on that special day, but she also smashed the existing record of 16 hours and 33 minutes as she did so.

Despite the horrifying conditions, from the storm to the extremely cold water, she has made it! About 4,000 people were there to greet and support her.

She has shown every person in this world that thorough preparation, perseverance, and support can help you achieve almost anything. And that is why Gertrude Ederle is a true Captain Marvel of her time.

About today’s writer on Gertrude Ederle

Morgan Rose Elliott is an aromatherapist, yoga instructor, animal lover, a happily married mother of three. She enjoys reading biographies and writing poems, sunny days on the beach and any shape and form of vanilla.

Crazy about the ’80s, her favorite band is Duran Duran (although her kids prefer Franz Ferdinand, and the husband Blink182) and she is obsessed with the Netflix series Stranger Things.


Top photo credit: Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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