She was the best swimmer in the world and she learned how to swim in New Jersey
She’s probably one of our country's most complete athletes and Olympic champions. She’s Gertrude Ederle and she’s famous for swimming the English Channel and for winning a gold medal for swimming at the 1924 Paris Olympics. She was a world record holder in five events.
Gertrude’s parents were from Germany and her father had a butcher shop in Manhattan. Gertrude was born in Manhattan in 1905 and learned how to swim at the family summer cabin in Highlands, New Jersey.
Learning to swim in the ocean here in Jersey and the pool at a swim club in Manhattan, Gertrude took to water like a fish, a fast fish. She turned professional in 1925 and did the 22-mile swim from Battery Park in lower Manhattan in New York City to Sandy Hook in New Jersey.
Gertrude broke the record by completing the 22-mile swim in 7 hours and 11 minutes, a record that stood for 81 years.
Gertrude and her brother Bob would call that 22-mile swim a “midnight frolic” and “warm up” to her swim across the English Channel.
Her first attempt across the Channel wasn’t successful as she was disqualified when her trainer pulled her out of the water when she was resting face down in the ocean. He thought she was drowning. She wasn’t happy, got rid of the trainer and started to train for another attempt.
Her second attempt was on August 6, 1926, when she stepped on the shores in France at Cape Gris-Nez and entered the water at 7 a.m.
It should be said at that time there were only 5 men who were successful at crossing the English Channel. The best recorded time for the men was 16 hours and 33 minutes.
Gertrude stepped out of the water in Kingsdown, England after completing the swim in an amazing 14 hours and 34 minutes. Just about 2 hours better than any man.
The first person to greet Gertrude as she stepped out of the water was a British immigration officer asking her for her passport.
Gertrude came back to the states to a big ticker-tape parade in New York in which over 2 million people attended. She signed a movie deal, a book deal and did a little vaudeville but the Great Depression hit, which curtailed her income and finances.
Gertrude had measles when she was young that made her partially deaf and as she grew older she became totally deaf and ended up teaching swimming to deaf children.
A terrible fall down the stairs did some significant back damage and she ended up bedridden for almost four years. She recovered but she wasn’t the same.
Gertrude never married and she died at the age of 98 in November of 2006 in a facility in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
Gertrude Ederle had a spirit and drive that made her a champion. There are parks in both Manhattan and Highlands, New Jersey named after her. She’s somebody your kids should know about.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.