Lynne Cox: Open Water Pioneer, Best-Selling Author, Cold War Activist, the List Goes On…

Lynne Cox before her historic swim
Lynne Cox Photo Courtesy: ISHOF Archives

By Sydney Mason, Swimming World College Intern.

Sometimes in the world of athletics – especially in the world of swimming – a slightly unconventional champion can fly right under our noses, and we’re none the wiser. Such is the case with pioneer open water swimmer Lynne Cox.

Lynne Cox: Athlete

Cox, born in 1957 in Boston, was recognized for her abilities to swim incredibly long distances at a young age. She hit the ground running as a teenager when she claimed the world record for the fastest English Channel crossing – twice: once in 1972 and again the following year in 1973.

Garnering commendations from both President Reagan and Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev, she swam across the Bering Straight during The Cold War from Alaska to the USSR. She has swum the Cook Strait as well as the Straits of Magellan.

Braving frigid temperatures, Cox swam over a mile in the waters of Antarctica.

Lynne Cox: Author

In addition to her superhuman physical feats, she has authored half a dozen highly acclaimed books, two of which have been listed as New York Times best sellers.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer (2004)

lynne cox

Photo Courtesy: teen

In Swimming to Antarctica, Cox details her journeys of the most historical swims in the history of open water swimming (the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the Nile to name a few). Readers of the memoir will quickly realize that the actual swims are the easy part of the puzzle. Getting permission, raising support, and getting past all of the red tape are where the true battles are fought.

Cox is able to vividly recall details of each of the swims, putting the reader right in the midst of the battle alongside her. Readers will be able to vicariously avoid a shark attack off the Cape of Good Hope, be accompanied by a school of dolphins in the Cook Strait and swim past ice chunks in the Antarctic.

Grayson (2006)

Grayson, a shorter novel, chronicles the true story of a chance encounter with a baby whale. At the age of 17, Cox was training in the ocean when she came upon a baby gray whale. She realized that the calf had lost its mother and decided to accompany it on the approximately two hour “search and wait” mission for its mother. Unlike any other book written by a world-class athlete, Grayson captures a story seemingly straight from a fairy tale. This book shows how large the world truly is and the impact we can make on the most surprising of creatures.

Lynne Cox: Activist

With a powerful spotlight, athletes can make great changes in the world of politics, social justice, health laws, etc. Cox was able to use the spotlight she received from some of her first big swims to create positive changes in the world. Her most famous feat, the 2.3 mile swim across the Bering Strait in 1987, brought a hopeful glimpse of peace during the Cold War – both Reagan and Gorbachev took the time to publicly speak about her incredible swim.

When she landed on the Soviet Union’s shore, she was kindly welcomed by the residents of the island of Big Diomede. This was wildly broadcasted to the American people, who were able to see the Soviet’s humanity in such an act.

In 2006, she swam across the Ohio River to help fight proposals that would decrease the water quality of the river.


Photo Courtesy: Lynne Cox

Often times, the entire focus of the media is placed on flashy achievements that quickly become “yesterday’s news” as a new competitor outranks an old one. With athletes like Lynne Cox, however, the focus is not just on a quick achievement that can be beaten the next day. Cox’s achievements are profound, eye-opening and reach further than any record or podium win. One could say her various achievements are ones “for the books.”

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

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