Cape Griz Nez, France (WHTM) It was one of the most daunting athletic challenges in the world-swimming across the English Channel. In all the world only five had done it, all male.

On August 6, 1926 that changed. At 7:08 a.m. twenty year old Gertrude Ederle, wearing a swim cap, goggles sealed with paraffin, a two piece swimsuit (somewhat risqué by the standards of the time) and a heavy coat of lanolin to protect from cold and jellyfish stings, stepped into the water at Cape Griz Nez, France.

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Fourteen hours and 34 minutes later, Ederle walked ashore at Kingsdown, England, becoming the first woman to swim the channel-and beating the previous record by two hours. Her record would hold until 1950.

Gertrude Ederlie was born in New York City on October 23, 1905 in Manhattan. At an early age, a case of measles damaged her hearing, a problem that got worse with time.

She learned to swim when very young, and it became her lifelong passion. By the time she was in her teens she was swimming competitively. From ages 15 to 19 she set 29 national and world records-nine of them in just one day, at a competition in New York. At the 1924 Olympics she won two bronze medals in the 100 and 400 meter freestyle, and a gold in 400 meter relay.

In 1925 she set her sights on becoming the first woman to swim the Channel. Her first attempt on August 8, 1925 ended in a disqualification when her trainer, thinking she was in distress, sent another swimmer to rescue her. (When she tried again in 1926 she had a different trainer.)

During her first attempt Ederlie was wearing the standard swimming outfit for women at the time, a one piece, loose fitting wool outfit. Deciding it caused too much drag, she went with a lighter weight, tighter fitting suit-and cut it in two to reduce drag even more.

During the swim she was accompanied by a tugboat carrying her trainer, family, and a reporter for the New York Daily News. Along the way they passed her snacks of fruit, chicken and soup, being very careful to not actually touch her, which could result in disqualification.

She was met by a large crowd when she came ashore in England, and an enormous crowd when New York threw a ticker tape parade in her honor. She did a successful tour in vaudeville doing swimming demonstrations, and played herself in a movie about her life.

Then in 1933 she slipped, fell down a flight of stairs, and seriously injured her back. She was actually bedridden for several years. That was pretty much the end of her competitive swimming, though she was able to make appearances at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. But by the early 1940s she had gone almost completely deaf. She retired from public life, and devoted herself to teaching swimming to deaf children. She died in 2003, at the age of 98, but remains a role model and inspiration for people to this day.