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Annette Kellerman: A Swimming Superstar

May 01, 2014 0 Comments

We all need a hero in our lives.


Lately I have been looking for a workout hero. Someone that I can turn to when I start wondering if it’s worth it and that couch is looking really tempting.

To find my hero, I started looking at the pioneers of various water sports. I came across many amazing people, but one woman’s story stood out to me.

Her name is Annette. Let’s meet her, shall we?

swimming career

Annette Kellerman was born in 1886 and when she was just 6 years old she contracted a disease that attacked her legs. She was fitted with painful leg braces in the hope that they would help her recover but her parents felt they had to do more.

Esther Williams Posing in Ballerina Costume

They decided to enroll her in swimming classes to help strengthen her muscles. At age 13 her legs were completely healed, and just two years later she had become a master swimmer and was winning races.

Pretty remarkable, right? Just wait.

At 16 Annette decided to take swimming more seriously and started giving exhibitions in both swimming and diving. She also performed amazing underwater ballets and is attributed with inventing synchronized swimming.

At 19 she was the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. After three failed attempts, she is quoted as saying “I had the endurance but not the brute strength.”

But hey, she tried!



As if swimming weren’t enough, Annette was also an advocate of new swimwear.

At the time it was customary for women to wear a full dress and pantaloons to go swimming. These were cumbersome, heavy, and hard to swim in. So Annette worked to change that.

She swam with a tight-fitting one-piece which, at the time, was considered indecent. In fact, at the height of her popularity she was arrested for public indecency while wearing it on the beach.

Eventually Annette created her own line of one-piece swimsuits which paved the way for more modern ladies’ swimwear (and the unitard)!



On top of overcoming a childhood illness, attempting to swim the English Channel, and pioneering women’s water fashion, Annette also made movies!
These were mostly water adventures with Annette cast as the mermaid. Unhappy with the costumes, she created the first swimmable mermaid costume. Her designs have been the inspiration of many costumes still used today.
She performed all her own stunts, including 90 foot dives into the ocean.
Annette has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Annette lived a life full of adventure and fun and she never lost her love of the water. She continued to swim and exercise up until her last days. She died in 1975 at the ripe old age of 89.


Who’s your hero?

If you need a swimming hero, I’ll let you borrow Annette. While I might not try to cross the English Channel or don a mermaid costume any time soon, I know I can make it one more lap across the pool because Annette did it all!

Who inspires your swims and workouts? Please leave a comment below.

Ally Henley
Ally Henley

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