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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 13:54 GMT
First woman to swim Channel dies
Gertrude Ederle 1906 - 2003
Ederle, first woman to cross the Channel
Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the Channel, has died at the age of 98.

Martin Ward, husband of one of Ederle's 10 surviving nieces and nephews, said she died on Sunday in New Jersey.

New Yorker Ederle, who was then 20, swam from Cape Griz-Nez in France to Kingsdown, England August 1926.

Her time - 14 hours 30 minutes - beat the men's record by more than two hours.

24 year record

Because of the stormy weather, she had swum 35 miles (56 kilometres) in crossing the 21-mile-wide (34-kilometre-wide) channel.

People said women couldn't swim the channel - I proved they could
Gertrude Ederle

She held the women's record for 24 years, until it was broken in 1950 by Florence Chadwick, who swam 23 miles (37 kilometers) in 13 hours and 20 minutes.

In an interview marking the 75th aniversary of her feat Erderle said: "People said women couldn't swim the channel. I proved they could."

When she returned to America, there were celebrations, receptions and a roaring ticker-tape parade for her in New York.

She met President Calvin Coolidge, was paid thousands to tour, played herself in a movie (Swim, Girl, Swim) and even had a song and a dance step named after her.

She recalled that during some of the hardest moments of her swim, her trainer tried to get her to give up; "I'd just look at him and say, 'What for?'"

At the ticker-tape parade, the crowds shouted, "Hello, Miss What-For!"

Champion swimmer

Ederle was a champion swimmer before her Channel swim, holding a string of world records at various distances, and appeared at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Gertrude Ederle
Ederle was a champion swimmer

In 1925, she swam the 21 miles (34 kilometres) from the tip of Manhattan to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in seven hours, 11 minutes, improving the men's record.

Her first attempt on the Channel came the same year.

She later blamed failure that time on her trainer, saying he had grabbed her when she briefly began coughing.

By the 1940s, Ederle had become completely deaf, because of childhood measles and hours spent in the water.

She took up teaching deaf children to swim, saying, "Since I can't hear either, they feel I'm one of them".


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