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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

real role models for kids :: Gertrude Ederle

In this series, real role models for kids, I will feature some of the amazing people we have gotten to know better through our reading explorations. These people, to me, offer great examples to kids and adults. Examples that can be drawn on during challenges and dissapointment. 

While no one is perfect, I do think role models share at least these five characteristcs.

1. They are hard working.
2. They embrace failure and know that much is to be learned in it.
3. The are innovative and big thinkers.
4. They are driven by their personal passion.
5. In some way, they make the world a better place.  

"When someone tells me I cannot do something, that's when I do it."
Gertrude Ederle

Gertrude Ederle's story quickly drew us in and astounded us! An early 20th century swimmer, Ederle won gold medals and broke many records, but she is most known for being the first woman to swim across the English Channel. When she accomplished this, only 5 men had done it (some attempting it up to 20 times) and she shattered their records! This was at a time when womens' roles and identities in society were changing drastically. She is like the Bille Jean King of the Roaring 20's. 

The actual story of the swim had my children on the edge of their seats. She attempted the feat the year before, only to be pulled out of the water by her trainer when she was just a few miles from the finish line. She found a new trainer and returned the following year to swim 35 miles in 14.5 hours. Her sister designed her bathing suit and goggles and she layered her body in 3 layers of grease to help retain body heat in the frigid Atlantic water and protect against stinging jelly fish. During the swim she would eat floating on her back, listen to the music being sang by the press boat and sing herself. At one point she was having trouble using one of her legs, and refused to be pulled out. She proclaimed that would finish or drown trying.

She accomplished this amazing feat and was the world's hero. After her triumphant ticker tape parade in NYC, she continued to swim, designed dresses and taught swimming to deaf children. She died at 98 years old in 2003. 

We read, America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, written by David Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener. This is an engaging, beautifully illustrated book that captures the excitement and daring of the swim.

With the wonder of the internet, you can instantly look up footage of Ederle preparing for her famous swim, the actual swim and her parade. Here is a great silent video showing all the above. Check out how rough the water is when she is swimming near the boat!

Extension activities

1. Design sports gear. If your child plays a sport or has a physical hobby, ask them to design new gear that would make their sport easier.

2. Try the grease experiment. Prepare a bowl of icy cold water. Dip one hand in for as long as you can. Then fill a large ziploc bag with shortening, wrap you hand with another bag and put in to the shortening bag and then dip the whole thing into the cold water. How much longer can your hand stay in the water when it is insulated with the grease?

3. Find the English Channel on the map. Talk about the various ways people have crossed it. (One of my kids is really into the Chunnel).

4. Mark the time of swim. Start in the morning at 7 am and say, "she is in the water now." As the day goes on, you can casually mention, "she is still swimming." At the end of the day you can note when she finishes at 9:40pm. This will make the length of the swim more real than the abstract idea of 14.5 hours. 


  1. We became fascinated with Wilson Bentley after reading the book entitled Snowflake Bentley. The kiddos an dI really like learning about people famous or not who have done great things.

  2. We also love Snowflake Bently and have multiple books about him & his work. STILL... I swear you and I are a blogging soul mates. My girls are swimming fanatics. I am so bookmarking this for a short study when they start their next session. Absolutely love it. I hope you will continue to link-up at the Kid's Co-op. ;-)

  3. I really like Snowflake Bentley too! Zina, my daughter is a swimmer too and has been on the swim team for the last few years. The crazy thing, I bet most of the other swim kids have no idea about Ederle.

  4. What an amazing story ! Thanks for sharing!


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