In Review: Lynne Cox’s ‘Swimming in the Sink’

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Photo Courtesy: Katie Wingert

By Katie Wingert, Swimming World College Intern. 

For those swimmers feeling down–or even just disillusioned by their sport’s daily grind—Lynne Cox’s Swimming in the Sink will serve as a rejuvenating breath of fresh air.

Cox, one of the world’s most accomplished open water swimmers in history, dives deep into vulnerable waters when recounting her experience with broken heart syndrome, which is a severe heart condition caused by severe stress, grief, or depression.

Perhaps that’s what makes Cox’s story so compelling: the raw struggles she exposes in her latest memoir are not just physical, but they are also emotional. We can relate to her story because she is human, and so are we. In a society in which athletes and celebrities are often elevated to an elite status, it is all the more profound for us to experience trauma alongside one of these very societal idols, who is not invincible to weakness.

After losing her mother, father, and dog, all of whom she spent a total of 25 years caring for, Cox is left at odds with what her life purpose might be. In addition, she finally has the chance to process the dark circumstances she has walked through in the past, now that she has no responsibilities to anyone else in her life.

What follows is a moving recollection, drawn from journal material, of Cox’s struggle with physical health concerns, the diagnosis of severe broken heart syndrome, and her recovery process with the help of medication, friends, and a slow re-introduction into her favorite exercise: swimming.

Cox chooses to tell her story with straightforward, intentional language that has the accessible directness of an athlete, coupled with the careful details of a poet. Short, emotionally charged sentences give the reader a sense of Cox’s inner turmoil, without any unnecessary hyperbole or ornateness.

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Photo Courtesy: Lynne Cox

But Cox’s book is not just a literary accomplishment; it is also an important story for any swimmer to engage. Many of us go through rough patches in our swimming careers and lives, whether those are as small as a 12-and-under plateau or as significant as the loss of a loved one.

For many of us, swimming is an escape and a step in our recovery process. For Cox, that is certainly true as well; as she is able to ease back into swimming and the familiar sensory joys of her sport, she is able to process her grief and anticipate emotional healing. Her story can inspire us to live ours with similar courage and conviction.

Additionally, at times, even the best of us are unable to swim due to health concerns or other unforeseeable circumstances. Cox memorably portrays what it is like to be divorced from the sport she loves. At one point, she goes so far as to fill her sink with cold water so that she can make sculling motions with her hands—an image that inspired her book title—because she wants to swim so badly.

For those of us who are struggling to find time in the water, or for those of us who are exhausted by difficult workouts, difficult coaches, and difficult teammates, Cox’s story can encourage us to rededicate our lives to swimming and can give us perspective on the immense joy our sport can give us.

Although the book is initially slow to start as Cox eases into vulnerability of her story, she ultimately holds her reader’s attention and causes her reader to question what it means to live through sorrow, embrace change, and seek vulnerability in relationships. What results is a must-read for swimmers, regardless of their season in life.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.