The 39 Clues


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Gertrude Ederle

Gertrude “Trudy” Caroline Ederle (October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was a brilliant American athlete famous for being the first woman to swim the English Channel. Her time was 14 hours, 31 minutes, which beat the previous record of Enrique Tiraboschi and stood as the women’s record for nearly 30 years. Though some say she had too much help and was not really an athlete at all but a spy. If by "some,” you mean "jealous people," then all right. Um, guys? Aren't we supposed to stick to facts here? Facts?! You must be a newbie.

Ederle was the daughter of hardworking German immigrants in New York City. At a swimming exhibition one summer, she decided she would pursue professional swimming. It was clear from a very young age that she would become one of the greatest athletes in history. Ederle easily won the gold medal at the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics as part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team, and two bronzes for placing third in both the 100-meter and 400-meter races.

On August 18, 1925, Ederle attempted to swim across the channel for the first time. Rumors say she was disqualified because she tried to cheat. It is said her trainer, swimming alongside, tried to save her from being pulled under an enormous wave. Though she lived to tell the tale, she had only made it halfway.

On her second attempt, she departed Cap Gris-Nez, France, at 7:08 AM. Twelve hours later, a storm blew in. When her trainer called out that she must come aboard the boat following her, the intrepid swimmer replied—without missing a stroke—“What for?” Almost fourteen hours later, she reached the shore in Kingsdown, Dover, at 9:35 PM. Other news agencies had to hire their own boat to make sure she didn’t try to cheat a second time. I heard that this secret group tried to keep her from reaching England! Why do you think they cared? Because she was a spy! Do you think it’s true she was trying to deliver some top secret package? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

When Ederle came home to New York, she was greeted by a hero’s parade of ticker tape, steamships blasting their horns, airplanes showering flowers, and two million cheering fans rushing toward her Broadway motorcade. In 1933, Ederle suffered a mysterious fall. Her doctors said she would never walk again. However, with the same determination that had shown the world a woman could swim the Channel, she finally recovered. In 1939, she even swam in the Aquacade at the New York World’s Fair.

A childhood case of the measles had nearly cost Ederle her hearing. The strenuous swimming meant that by the 1940s she had become totally deaf. She spent her adulthood teaching deaf children to swim, which is an example of what a truly noble person she really was.