Sunday, August 2, 2009


On August 6, 1926, Trudy Ederle (aka Gertrude Ederle) became the first woman - and sixth person ever - to swim the English Channel, beating the existing men's record by nearly two hours and proving, once and for all, that women could compete as athletes.

To celebrate the 103rd anniversary of her success, a brief excerpt from my new biography of Ederle, Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, just released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and available everywhere:
[Note: A larger excerpt is available on the books' page on, ]

Cape Gris Nez., Aug 6. (By the Associated Press) Gertrude Ederle, the American Swimmer, started at 7:09 o’clock this morning in an attempt to swim the English Channel. The weather conditions when she took her plunge were fine.

“…Please God, help me.” As her head left the air Trudy tried to think of nothing else – nothing important, nothing that mattered, and nothing that didn’t touch her at that instant. Nothing but the water and the air, the sea and the sky, her hands and arms reaching out, her legs kicking, her face turning toward the sky breathing in, then turning, under the water, breathing out.

The start, she knew, was the hardest part. As she plunged into the water and began to swim, her body, swept over by the cold, was still in pieces – her arms felt stiff, each stroke still uncertain, wavering, irregular, and as she kicked her legs she went at first too fast, then too slow, then back and forth, holding them too stiffly, then too relaxed as she tried to find the place where her arms and hands and legs and feet were all one piece, in harmony. She tried to find that special place atop the water and in her mind where she did not feel the cold or the spray or the difference between the air and the water, lightness and dark, day or night. A place where there was no time at all.

In … out… In… out… this was the worst. In shorter swims – one hundred yards, two hundred yards, three hundred, she hardly ever thought of breathing, and never thought of anything but going fast, breathing fast, reaching out and kicking and breathing. Then all she did was pull with her arms and feel the water slip away as she churned her way for a minute or two or three, taking deep breaths and exhaling, one after the other, until she moved through the water like running downhill, so fast that it was over before you started, before she even felt tired, before she even had time to think..."

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