Perseverance Personified: Gertrude Ederle & Lillian Harrison
Highlands has always claimed Gertrude (Trudy) Ederle as its own special heroine, and as well it should. Not only was she the first woman to ever swim the English Channel, Trudy also broke the records of men who had accomplished it earlier. She always told the world she learned to swim in Highlands.
It was true, right off the pier next to Bahr’s Restaurant and into the Shrewsbury near the Highlands Sea Bright Bridge recognized as having the eighth strongest current in the world.
While we always admire Trudy’s strength, her ability, her endurance, and her determination, we sometimes forget her determination, patience, and perseverance.
It was probably shown best on August 7, 1925. The day she was supposed to start her swim from Cap Gris Nez, France to England, a 26 mile or so trip across the English Channel. Her intent to accomplish this feat had been put off several times prior to August 7 for a variety of reasons.
When August 7 arrived, her coach, Captain Jabez Wolfe, announced the start would be postponed again. After consulting all his weather maps, his charts, the barometer, and his own incredible knowledge of the whims of the Channel, he said there was too much wind and the shifting currents were too strong.
Newspapers, although in love with Trudy, described the relative water “as changeable as a woman’s whims!”
So Trudy waited once again.
Trudy's competition for the title, Lillian Harrison, an Argentine marathon swimmer had tried and failed three times previously. This time, she and Trudy were going to start simultaneously.
When Trudy’s coach announced his swimmer was going to wait a week or so, Ms. Harrison’s coach announced she would go in the water a bit later. Certainly by Monday at the latest, Ms. Harrison would set to go, ahead of Trudy. There was no doubt Ms. Harrison wanted to claim the title.
In the end, Ms. Harrison slipped into the English Channel that night, confident she could overcome the channel’s changing current. It was her fourth and final attempt and she nearly drowned in the process.
Ms. Harrison had gathered numerous titles on her own before that, however, and was the first person to ever swim the River Plate in Argentina, to which nine others had attempted and failed before her. Her record swim was not matched for nearly 100 years. Ms. Harrison also held the record for endurance in the water.
Trudy Ederle went on to conquer the English Channel Swim a year later on August 6th, 1926 in 14 hours and 34 minutes. A mark that wouldn’t be broken until 1950.
These two women were strong and powerful athletes. What is far more impressive was their ability to accept defeat, get up, and try again.
The following article was originally posted on Muriel Smith's website, Veni Vidi Scripto. If you are interested in reading more about local history and current events, visit Veni Vidi Scripto.