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How Accurate is Young Woman and the Sea? History vs. Hollywood


Daisy Ridley
Born: April 10, 1992
London, England, UK

Gertrude 'Trudy' Ederle
Born: October 23, 1905
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Death: November 30, 2003, Wyckoff, New Jersey, USA

Tilda Cobham-Hervey
Born: September 4, 1994
Adelaide, Australia

Margaret Ederle
Born: May 2, 1904
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Death: December 10, 1999
Bio: Gertrude's Sister

Kim Bodnia
Born: April 12, 1965
Copenhagen, Denmark

Henry Ederle
Born: December 30, 1875
Birthplace: Germany
Death: January 15, 1944, New York, USA (automobile accident)
Bio: Butcher Shop Owner and Father of Gertrude Ederle

Jeanette Hain
Born: February 18, 1969
Munich, Germany

Gertrude Anna Ederle
Born: 1883
Birthplace: Germany
Death: June 29, 1954
Bio: Trudy's Mother

Christopher Eccleston
Born: February 16, 1964
Salford, Lancashire, England, UK

Jabez Wolffe
Born: November 19, 1876
Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland
Death: October 22, 1943
Bio: Trained Gertrude for Her First Channel Attempt

Stephen Graham
Born: August 3, 1973
Kirkby, Lancashire, UK

Bill Burgess
Born: June 15, 1872
Birthplace: Rotherham, England
Death: July 2, 1950, Paris, France
Bio: Gertrude's Trainer for Her Second Channel Attempt

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Did Trudy Ederle grow up in New York City?

Yes. Gertrude 'Trudy' Ederle was born on October 23, 1905 in New York City to German immigrants Henry and Gertrude Anna Ederle. She was raised in Manhattan, and like in the Disney movie, the Young Woman and the Sea true story confirms that her father, Henry Ederle, operated a butcher shop there. Actress Daisy Ridley, who portrays Ederle in the film, is a London-born Engish actress best known for her role as Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. While she delivers a capable if not commendable performance, it is unclear why an English actress was cast to portray an American swimmer, especially given that Ridley's English accent slips through at times.

Where did Trudy Ederle learn to swim?

A Young Woman and the Sea fact-check reveals that Trudy learned to swim at her family's beachfront summer home in Highlands, New Jersey. It was there that she and her sisters became involved with the Women's Swimming Association, which trained them.

Did Trudy Ederle suffer hearing loss as a child?

Yes. Her hearing had been damaged as the result of a case of measles when she was a child. Her hearing loss was exacerbated by swimming, and by the 1940s, Ederle had lost almost all of her hearing.

Was Trudy Ederle a highly-accomplished swimmer before taking on the English Channel?

Yes. Prior to her Channel attempts, she was already an accomplished world-class swimmer, setting a total of 29 American and world records from 1921 to 1925. She competed in the 1924 Summer Games in Paris, winning gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and capturing bronze in the 400-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle.

She turned professional in 1925, the same year she completed a long-distance swim of 22 miles from Battery Park in New York City to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Her record time of 7 hours and 11 minutes stood for 81 years before it was broken by another female swimmer, Australia's Tammy van Wisse. Ederle's nephew later described the swim as a warm-up for her Channel crossing.

Trudy Ederle is portrayed by Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley (inset).

Is Young Woman and the Sea based on a book?

Yes. It's based on the 2009 book of the same name by Glenn Stout. The book is available via Amazon below.

Did Trudy Ederle fail in her first attempt to cross the English Channel?

Like in Disney's Trudy Ederle movie, she first attempted to swim the English Channel on August 18, 1925. She made it 14 miles before her trainer, Jabez Wolffe (portrayed by Christopher Eccleston), had a spotter who was swimming alongside her touch her and help recover her from the water. Ederle, who had been resting (not drowning) by floating face-down, had wanted to keep going, and it was speculated that Wolffe didn't want to see her finish, possibly because he had previously failed to make it across in 22 attempts from 1906 to 1914. Contact with the spotter swimmer, Ishak Helmy, immediately disqualified Ederle. Adding to the controversy was the fact that Jabez Wolffe had remarked that it just might be that women are not capable of swimming the English Channel.

For her second attempt, was Trudy Ederle trained by Bill Burgess, a male swimmer who had previously conquered the Channel?

Yes. She was trained by English-born swimmer Bill Burgess in preparation for her second attempt, ditching her previous trainer, Jabez Wolffe. Burgess, who is portrayed by actor Stephen Graham in the film, completed his Channel swim on September 6, 1911 after making 15 previous attempts. Burgess was the second person in history to successfully swim the Channel for sport, behind only Englishman Matthew Webb, who swam from Dover to Calais in 1875.

Trudy Ederle's trainer, Bill Burgess, rubs dolphin grease on her before her historic swim across the English Channel. Dolphin fat was used to protect Ederle from brine (sea water), which she was allergic to.

How did Trudy Ederle pay for her swim across the English Channel?

Similar to the true story chronicled in last year's Nyad starring Annette Bening as long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida in 2013, one of the biggest obstacles is finding funding for such swims. In Ederle's case, she entered into a contract with the Daily News and the Chicago Tribune Press Service, who would be guaranteed the exclusive story.

How far did Trudy Ederle swim when she crossed the English Channel?

To cross the English Channel, New York City-born Gertrude Ederle swam approximately 21 miles from Cape Gris-Nez, France to Kingsdown, Kent, England. However, it is likely that she swam further given that the Channel's harsh conditions kept her from swimming a straight route.

When did Gertrude Ederle swim the English Channel?

20-year-old Gertrude Ederle completed the 21-mile swim on August 6, 1926, traveling from France to England in the cold, unforgiving jellyfish-infested waters of the English Channel.

Trudy Ederle (right) made her successful 21-mile Channel swim on August 6, 1926.

How long did it take Trudy Ederle to swim the English Channel?

Ederle completed her swim across the Channel in 14 hours and 31 minutes. In researching how accurate is Young Woman and the Sea, we learned that it's true that her time was faster than any of the five male swimmers who had crossed the Channel before her, setting a world record for both men and women. She beat the previous record-holder, male swimmer Enrique Tirabocchi, by more than two hours. It took Tirabocchi 16 hours and 33 minutes to make it across the Channel three years before Ederle crushed his record.

Was a British immigration officer the first person to greet Trudy Ederle when she came ashore in England?

Yes. A British immigration officer greeted her and asked her for her passport.

Was Gertrude Ederle celebrated with a ticker-tape parade attended by 2 million people?

Yes. According to the true story, an estimated 2 million people lined the streets in New York City to celebrate Trudy Ederle's remarkable feat. She was invited to the White House by President Calvin Coolidge who called her "America's best girl". President Coolidge reportedly told her, "I am amazed that a woman of your small stature should be able to swim the English Channel." The press nicknamed Ederle "Queen of the Waves".

A ticker-tape parade attended by more than 2 million people was held for Trudy Ederle along Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes in 1926 after her completion of the Channel swim.

What happened to Trudy Ederle after the events in Disney's Young Woman and the Sea?

Ederle was paid a hefty sum by Edward L. Hyman to appear at Brooklyn's Strand Theatre. She also played herself in the 1927 movie Swim Girl, Swim, a silent romantic comedy starring Bebe Daniels. Ederle toured the vaudeville circuit and had a song and dance step named after her. Her short-lived vaudeville career did not prove to be financially lucrative. Diminishing her financial gains from her popularity was the Great Depression.

In 1933, Ederle fell down the steps in her apartment building and twisted her spine, which left her bedridden for a number of years. She was well enough to make an appearance at the World's Fair in New York in 1939. By the 1940s, she had lost most of her hearing and spent time teaching swimming to deaf children. Ederle never married. Her father, Henry Ederle, was killed in an automobile accident in January 1944 at age 69.

Was Trudy Ederle's English Channel record broken?

Yes. In 1950, American Florence Chadwick made the France-to-England swim in 13 hours and 23 minutes. A year later, she crossed the channel in the opposite direction, from England to France, in 16 hours and 22 minutes, becoming the first female to swim the Channel in both directions. In her lifetime, Florence Chadwick swam the English Channel a total of four times.

How did Daisy Ridley prepare for her role as Trudy Ederle?

According to the Daily News, actress Daisy Ridley spent three months training under silver medalist Siobhan-Marie O'Connor before production began on the Trudy Ederle movie in April 2022. Ridley practiced the American crawl technique Ederle used, which is similar to the front crawl used today. O'Connor continued to train Ridley after filming commenced. "We were swimming during filming and swimming to train in the weekends and the evenings," said Ridley.

Was Young Woman and the Sea shot in the open water?

Yes. According to the Daily News, Young Woman and the Sea's English Channel sequences were shot over nine days in the Black Sea along the Bulgarian Coast. Of shooting in the ocean, director Joachim Rønning said that actress Daisy Ridley was "so game to do that. ... Never complaining, always going for it, lips blue and channeling Trudy Ederle."