(Last Updated On: April 17, 2010)
Book Review: Swimming to Antarctica
Author: Lynne Cox
During my last blog entry, I mentioned that my injury has allowed me some time to find sources of inspiration. Another source of inspiration is long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox. I recently read her autobiography, Swimming to Antarctica, and found it full of insight.
Not everyone sets huge athletic goals for themselves at age nine. But, Lynne Cox did. In her autobiography, she describes how a stormy day while swimming at her pool in New Hampshire, she set her sights on swimming across the English Channel. She worked toward that goal during her adolescence, moving to California in the meantime. Swimming 26 miles across the Catalina Channel at age 12 further provided further motivation for her English Channel swim. At age 15, Cox swam across the English Channel, breaking both the women’s and men’s world record times.
So, what do you do when you achieve your life goal at age 15? You strive for more challenges. And that’s exactly what Lynne Cox did. After her first swim at the English Channel, her record was quickly broken. So, she went back and broke the record once again. She also set a record on the Catalina Channel. Eventually, Cox began focusing on international swims with her ultimate desire being to swim across the Bering Strait into Russia, during the Cold War. The political maneuvering behind doing such a swim took years, so she began training in colder waters. Cox swam across the Cook Strait in New Zealand, joined by dolphins, being broadcast through the whole country, and with all of the Kiwis pulling for her as the weather continued to worsen. She then pushed her cold-water boundaries in the Strait of Magellan, swimming in 44 degree water, followed by swims in the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Lake Myvant in Iceland (where the water was 43 degrees). All the while, she encaptured the hearts and souls of people in each country visiting, finding support in places she never expected. Cox never forgot her ultimate goal of swimming the Bering Strait and viewed all of her various swims as training for this swim. To prepare for swimming in the 38 degree water of the Bering Strait she ventured to Glacier Bay, Alaska where she swam 28 minutes with pan ice in 38 degree water.
The book seems to climax during Lynne’s swim of the Bering Strait. Cox spent years writing letters, making phone calls, and creating connections which would eventually allow her to gain the permission she needed for the swim. This swim would never have happened if it weren’t for her persistence and endless hope. Before she had even gained permission from the Russian authorities, she and her support team made there way to Nome, Alaska to prepare for the swim. Cox had a window of time she allotted for the swim and near the end of that time she still hadn’t heard from the Russians. But, then the long-awaited phone call was finally received and the swim was on. Lynne swam from Little Diomede and Big Diomede, from Alaska to Russia, in cold water, during the Cold War. Cox’s swim signified new relations between the two enemies, and allowed for a cultural exchange between the habitants of two countries that only knew rumors about one another.
Cox’s successful swims made her realize her true potential. Her swims began to develop into “three dimensional” tasks. Cox’s goal was not only to swim in unique places, but she also wanted to “establish bridges between borders”. In trying to accomplish this goal, Cox swam in Lake Baikal in Siberia, across the Beagle Channel between Chile and Argentina, across the Spree River from East Berlin to West Berlin (before the fall of the Berlin Wall), and across Lake Titicaca from Bolivia to Peru.
But, these swims were easy for Cox. She desired for something more challenging- something people thought was absolutely impossible. Cox wanted to swim in Antarctica. In 1992, Cox became the first person to swim the “Arctic mile”, swimming in 32 degree water from a ship called the Orlova to the shore of Antarctica at Neko Harbor. The swim was an enormous victory for Cox, although she sustained permanent nerve and muscle damage from prolonged exposure to the cold water.
I am not a swimmer, really. And the thought of swimming in water that cold makes me want to cry. Yet, I found this book absolutely enjoyable. As an athlete myself- a female athlete at that-, I could relate to many of the trials she encountered in her story. Cox battles issues of funding and sponsorship, often emptying her checking account to achieve her goals. She writes about the failure to achieve a goal, a matter that many athletes have to contend with from time to time, and demonstrates how overcoming failures is a matter of mind-set. Cox talks about why she swims and it’s a simple answer – she swims because she’s good at it. To accomplish her goals, she spends years planning and training with the end result being exposure to treacherous conditions, whether it is nearly freezing water temperatures, floating chunks of ice, sharks, or raw sewage on the Nile. Like any ambitious athlete, Cox devotes her time, her mind, her money and her life to accomplishing the goals that surround her sport. Because of this, Cox’s book is one that any athlete will appreciate.
Lynne Cox now tours around the country speaking about her experiences and on other topics such as motivation and goal setting. You can hear an excerpt of one of Lynne’s talks here:
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