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Miss Mercedes Gleitz(e)

Mercedes Gleitze  (18 November 1900 9 February 1981) was a British professional swimmer. She was the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar and the first British woman to swim the English channel. The name of Mercedes Gleitze was used to market Rolex's new waterproof case, the "Oyster". She established endurance records for swimming including a record of 46 hours in 1932. She was able to raise funds to found the Mercedes Gleitze Homes in Leicester via sponsorship for homeless people. The Mercedes Gleitze charity is now linked to the Family Action charity.

With her bilingual background and education Gleitze became a secretary and stenographer in central London exploiting her talent for languages. In her spare time she started swimming in the River Thames. Her first significant record was for 10 hr 45 min she spent swimming in the Thames. This was the longest time for a woman in 1923. She attracted attention when, at the eighth attempt, she became the first English woman to swim the English Channel, on 7 October 1927.The record was in doubt when in the following days another woman claimed to have swum the channel faster.[4] Her version of events proved to be a fabrication but the effect of this hoax undermined Gleitze's claim.

Under pressure from the media she agreed to undertake a "vindication swim" even though the water was much colder than when Channel swimming is normally attempted. Gleitze failed to complete the swim but her endurance of the cold convinced all that the original record should stand. Gleitze made not only her name but also that of Rolex's Oyster watch. The watch withstood her second swim and this was used to launch an advertising campaign in Britain. Rolex still uses Gleitze's name in their publicity.

Gleitze was sponsored for these record attempts and in 1928 she was able to open the first Mercedes Gleitze Home in 1933. This was a large house in Leicester that was converted into flats for homeless families. She was supported in her work by the Rotary Club which was undertaking a scheme to move unemployed people from the north of England to Leicester where they could find work. Gleitze continued to break records and she became the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa.

Gleitze travelled to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to establish new records for swimming. Besides swimming the 100 miles around the Isle of Man and becoming the first person to swim to Robben Island and back to Cape Town she also staged feats of endurance swimming.

When she first took the endurance swimming record it stood at 26 hours. Over several years she extended this record in public swimming baths where crowds would attend and encourage her by singing together.

Gleitze married engineer Patrick Carey in Dover in 1930 with the American swimming twins Bernice and Phyllis Zittenfeld as bridesmaids. The ceremony was covered by British newsreels where Gleitze announced that she was off to swim the Hellespont instead of going on honeymoon. Gleitze continued to extend her endurance record to 45 hours the following year. In 1932 she retired after again extending the record finally to 46 hours.

Gleitze had three children and died aged 80 on 9 February 1981 in a hospital in London.

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