Gertrude Ederle

I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist, far from it, but I do tend to shy away from trying or participating in things I know I'm not good at. And I acknowledge that I should say " I feel I'm not good at" because I tell my daughter all the time, "how do you *know* you aren't good or don't like it if you haven't even tried it yet?", but I'm still working on my brain seeing that idea applies to me too.

But sometimes I avoid putting myself out there if I think I won't measure up to everyone else or the risk of failure feels too high.

But here's what I am starting to realize--in large part because of all the amazing women I've been studying. I'm learning that a lot of the times, like most of the time, we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. 

That's why I love Gertrude Ederle so much. Gertrude, or Gerty to friends, became the first woman to swim the English Channel, but it wasn't without some failure. Ederle had a competitive spirit and had been swimming from a young age in her small community pool in Manhattan where she was born. It was clear from the beginning that she had a knack for the sport and so it led to a life of swimming with the WSA (Women Swimming Assoc.), the AAUU (after they finally consented to letting women compete) and the 1924 US Olympic team where she held over 25 records at one time.

*Also a side note that early in women's competitive swimming women had to wear stockings, until they finally decided they could swim without them. For real and they still were required to wear them to the water and right after they got out. Stockings while swimming? No thank you. 

Gerty didn't let stockings get in her way and after witnessing several men (only 5 at the time) swim the "Everest of swimming" or English Channel she decided she wanted to prove that a woman could do the same. "I just knew it could be done, it had to be done and I did it." Ederle said of her desire to accomplish the swim. However, near the completion of her first attempt her swimming coach instructed a member from a support boat who was swimming nearby to check on her because she looked to be under distress, disqualifying her swim. Gerty defends that she was not actually in need of help and was distraught by this decision.

But she did not let this failure define her. Instead she learned from it, hired a new coach, trained more and vowed to try again. So on Aug 6, 1926 one year later, not only did she actually swim the entire channel, she did it on a day with conditions so bad that they almost called her swim off. She did it in record time of 14 hours 34 minutes, a record which held for another 25 years. Researchers today have also estimated that because of the choppy water conditions, and her indirect path, that she may have swam up to 35 miles (the English Channel is only 21 miles across). 

Gertrude Ederle's tenacious spirit and willingness to learn from her mistakes rather than dwell on them are what make her so amazing. In the end her first failure made her stronger than she ever thought she could be. A life lesson we can all learn from. 

Ederle went on to open a swimming school for the deaf, after experiencing increased hearing loss herself from childhood measles. In 2003 she passed and left a wake of influence that still flows today. 

Click the picture to see the Gerty dress that will hopefully inspire many more "failures". 


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