By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, June 19. IN January this year, 47-year-old Lynne Cox released her first book “Swimming to Antarctica,” which chronicled her simply amazing progression of distance swims that began at the age of fourteen, when she stroked twenty-six miles from Catalina to the California shore.
At our first meeting in 1999 I had no idea of the extraordinary scope of Cox’s swimming achievements, simply imagining I was meeting a talented open-water swimmer. During our meal, she had casually described how she had been guided by a pod of dolphins in a swim across New Zealand’s Cook Strait after strong currents had taken her off course. This, I then realised was no ordinary distance swimmer.
Cox has spent a great part of her life planning and taking on the most challenging of swims, having lost interest in breaking records early in her career — though among those she has broken are the men’s and women’s records for swimming the English Channel at age 15 and 16 respectively.
She was the first to swim the Straits of Magellan. And she was the first to swim the Bering Strait — from Alaska to Siberia. In 38-degree water. Without a wetsuit or shark cage!
It's for such daring feats that cox was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2000.
Last week we caught up again in her hometown of Los Alamitos, California. I was surprised when Cox told me that it was not just her passion for swimming that had consumed her for so long.
“I had always wanted to be a writer,” Cox admitted. “All those years of persisting in taking detailed notes after each of my swims, you could say this book represented twenty-three years of work — not exactly a financially rewarding exercise,” she said with a wry smile.
Her struggle to get her story published in many ways mirrored the challenges Cox has experienced in the water. “The discipline and persistence I learned as a long distance swimmer certainly came in very handy in my efforts to get my story told,” she explained.
“I tried ten times over fifteen years to get a publisher to go with my story. I had four different agents visit three book expos and eventually went through eleven rewrites to get it finished.”
Cox described how toward the end of the process, the editor told her that her manuscript was too long and she had to cut two hundred excess pages out of it. “A lot of stories just didn’t make it.”
According to Cox, the book continues to sell steadily and she has been on the promotional trail almost non-stop since its January 13 release. It made the Book of the Month Club in March and was featured second on the "Notable Books" list in the New York Times.
Her incredible swim in the Antarctic was recorded by CBS’s 60 Minutes and she has had articles published in the New Yorker and LA Times Magazine.
Cox told SwimInfo that demand for her as a motivational speaker has been increasing, an activity she finds both challenging and enjoyable. “I make a great effort to research the audience I will be talking with to make sure the message gets across, she said.
In the final page of “Swimming to Antarctica,” Cox recounts a story where a seven-year-old boy asks her whether she would be satisfied if she worked very hard towards a goal but did not accomplish it. Cox replied, “ I would be happy that I tried to reach my goal, but if I didn’t succeed, I would want to go back and figure out what I needed to do to accomplish it, and then try again.”
It’s that kind of book, from a truly unique individual.