Young Woman And The Sea

I just read the inspiring story of Gertrude (Trudy) Ederle’s historic swim of the English Channel in 1926, becoming the first woman to do so and breaking the existing record by two hours.

It is Young Woman And The Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered The English Channel And Inspired The World by Glenn Stout.

Glenn is an excellent historical writer. He went into detail about the geology of the channel and how that led to its tricky tides, currents, and weather. He also covered the history of channel swimming, leading to five successful attempts, all by men, and many unsuccessful, both male and female, by the 1920s. There is also excellent background on the history of prevailing attitudes towards women, the so-called “weaker sex”. When it came to swimming, this was exacerbated by prudish attitudes toward attire, making it difficult to come up with practical swimwear. He covers a key event that led to change, the General Slocum Disaster. Hundreds of people were killed when the passenger ship General Slocum caught fire in the East River in New York. The ship had inadequate lifeboats and lifepreservers, and most of the passengers could not swim to make what would have been a short voyage to safety. This led, among other things, to a large outcry that swimming instruction should become widespread for both men and women. There followed the founding of the Women’s Swimming Association, which promoted swimming for safety but later also pursued swimming as part of Women’s athletics.

These changes were taking place while the remarkable young woman Trudy Ederle was growing up. How this led to her becoming a world-class swimmer and conquering the channel takes up most of the book. It culminates in the story of the absolutely epic swim itself. Upon reading that I thought “this is at least as inspiring as stories like Chariots of Fire, somebody needs to make a movie about it”. I was pleased to learn that Disney+ is doing just that, based on this book. The movie Young Woman And The Sea is currently in post-production.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes inspirational stories of sports and overcoming adversity.

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