Swimming to Antarctica

Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer

By Lynne Cox

Lynne Cox is the world’s greatest extreme swimmer and if you doubt her ability and resolve read her remarkable book, Swimming to Antarctica; Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer.  Lynne has been blessed with several things to make her the most elite extreme swimmer on the planet; she has the physique (the perfect proportion of body fat and muscle), the metal toughness (this may be the most extraordinary gift of all), the tenacity (the woman does not give up) and the vision (she is a dreamer - big time).

By the time Lynne was 15 years she broke the men’s and women’s record for swimming the English Channel (when her record was later broken by a male swimmer she reclaimed her title again a year later).  At 19 years she had swam the Strait of Magellan from the tip of Chile to Tierra Del Fuego, and Cook Strait in New Zealand.  She successfully swam the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1987 created an international media frenzy when she swam the Bering Sea from Alaska to Big Diomede Island in the Soviet Union (diplomatically greeting Soviet well wishers before seeking medical attention). 

In reference to the title of the book, in 2002, Lynne also became the first person to swim a mile in the deathly cold Antarctic Ocean at age 45 years old.  But these are just her accomplishments.  Her story of how she achieves them is even more amazing.  Cox’s prose is honest, entertaining, inspiring and emotional.  She is a woman who can put “mind over matter” and keep going in spite of self-doubt and physical pain.  She writes of her Antarctic swim,

I still couldn’t get a good breath.  I thought of rolling on my back to give myself time to breathe, but I couldn’t.  It was too cold.  I closed my mouth, overrode everything my body was telling me to do, held my breath, gasped coughed, cleared my windpipe, and relaxed just a little, just enough to let my guard down and catch another wave in the face…. I held my face in the water for two strokes and told myself, Relax, just turn your head and breathe.

Cox does what we can only imagine but tells her story in such a personal way that we understand the journey as if we’re doing it right beside her.  You can almost feel the cold of the near freezing Antarctic water and the peril of the razor-sharp shifting icebergs, as well as, the sliminess of the sludge and rot of the decaying animal carcasses of the polluted Nile River.  You appreciate the fear, the disappointments and the exhilaration of completing a goal no one has ever achieved before.  You understand for 359 pages what it’s like to have super-human goals and achieve them against all odds.