Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, learned to swim as a young child. She began to compete as a teenager and eventually achieved a lifetime record of twenty-nine U.S. and world swimming records.
Ederle won a gold medal in the 400 meter freestyle relay and bronze medals in the 100 meter and 400 meter freestyle races in the 1924 Paris Olympics. The next year she conceived of the idea of swimming the English Channel and made her first try. The sea was rough and she didn’t succeed in her 1925 attempt.
In 1926, she succeeded, becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel. Her time of 14 hours, 31 minutes for the 35-mile (56K) distance broke the previous record held by a man, bettering it by almost two hours, and it stood for 35 years as the woman’s record. “People said women couldn’t swim the Channel but I proved they could!” Ederle not only showed athletic strength, endurance and skill at levels unexpected and unforeseen in her time, she bested the previous male swimming record for the Channel swim by close to two hours. The English Channel waters were high, gray and icy on August 6, 1926. Ederle suffered back injuries and hearing impairment as a result of her Channel swim.
She went on, after her competitive swimming days were over, to a successful career in fashion design and to create breakthrough techniques for teaching people with hearing impairments to swim. Ederle’s extraordinary accomplishment and the broad public recognition that she received at the time set a milestone in the achievement of expanded opportunity for women in athletics.