Swimming to Antarctica, Lynne Cox

There’s something you should know about me going into the summer of 2012. I look forward to the Olympic games (and in particular, the Summer Games) with a fervor bordering on fanaticism. (Usually I’m on the wrong side of that border too.) An energy that rarely possesses me takes over, and for two weeks, I’m glued to the television set, grateful for the technology that allows me to watch athletes from all over the world compete at levels far beyond what my body could ever comprehend.

I unabashedly cry during many of the events, although I can never predict beforehand which of them will have the most affecting stories. It’s the same feeling I get when I happen upon a show filming the return of soldiers to their families; although I’m adamantly against unnecessary violence, I can’t help but be swept away by the sheer joy of the reunion. The human spirit can endure so much for so long, and when, all at once, something truly great happens, the flood of joy and release is unbelievable.

When I watch athletes competing in the Olympics, I can’t help but think of the history that has brought us to this point – of the conflict, the bloodshed, the disregard for how similar we all, as human beings, are – and be amazed. Every two years, for a few weeks, the whole world watches together, and I love it with my whole being. The only trouble with something like the Olympics is that it’s hard to completely put aside that while some people win, many do not. It’s a competition that brings countries together, but at its heart, it is, still, a competition.

Maybe that’s why I fell so completely for Lynne Cox. In her memoir, Swimming to Antarctica, she embraces her tenacity and talent as a world-class open water swimmer with her desire to act as symbol of peace and partnership between feuding countries. She does it almost entirely without corporate sponsorship, instead relying on a network of friends and colleagues who believe, like her, that it is possible, nay – essential – to push the boundaries of human endurance. She doesn’t swim to get rich or famous; in fact, she has to bankrupt herself multiple times in order to do what she believes is possible. She does it because she has the drive, not only to perform at an elite level, but also to use her swims as gestures of goodwill.

When I picked up this book, Cox immediately won me over with her warmth and gift for storytelling. She begins the book by describing herself as a chubby nine-year old who loved to swim despite being slow, and as she discovers the world of open water swimming, I was swept up by her adventures. By the time I got to the black and white photographs in the middle of the book and realized she was still a well-padded swimmer even as an adult, I just about fell over with gratitude. Here was an athlete breaking boundaries no one in the world had dreamed of crossing and she wasn’t even a size 2! In fact, on one of her swims, a taxi cab driver points out she doesn’t look like a record-breaking swimmer and she just shakes it off.

If you’re gifted with a traditionally athletic body, it might not mean as much to you to discover a role model like this one as it does for me, but most of us do have something that sets us apart, a trait we desperately search for in our mentors. It may be some combination of race, culture, sexual preference, and religion, or it might be something as simple as meeting a person who does impossible things with a sense of humor (see my entry on John “The Penguin” Bingham).

No hero is the right fit for everyone, but Lynne Cox really checks a lot of boxes for me. She’s a woman. She started swimming mind-blowing distances in open water as a young teenager. She’s persevered without much money. She has respect for the planet and for the people she meets in different cultures. She sets insane goals for herself and manages to follow through even if it takes years. She is passionate about what she does. She has broken records all over the world. I tell you, it’s hard not to cheer on a person like this:

More than anything I now understood that no one achieves great goals alone. It didn’t matter to New Zealanders that I wasn’t from their country. It only mattered that I was trying to swim their strait. They had cheered me on for hours, and in doing so, they had cheered the same human spirit within themselves. Through the Cook Strait crossing, I realized that a swim can be far more than an athletic adventure. It can become a way to bridge the distance between people and nations. During the Cook Strait swim, we were united in a human endurance struggle that surpassed national borders. (pg 145)

My favorite site for more information on Lynne Cox is here.

18 thoughts on “Swimming to Antarctica, Lynne Cox

    1. I totally understand! I’m not usually much of a biography reader myself, but this year I’ve been so happy to find a few that I’ve really loved, including this one. I hope you enjoy it as well!

  1. You described the feeling of reading this book so well! I just loved reading this book (and I’m not even that into swimming). Cox just has an amazing way with words and transporting us into the experience If you haven’t already, definitely read her book Grayson. It’s about her meeting with a baby whale on one of her swims. I agree with you, Cox is a hero in my eyes too :)

    1. It was surprisingly difficult to write about Cox’s story. I loved the book so much, but when I sat down to try to share it, I really struggled. It makes me feel a lot better to hear from someone else who has read it that I didn’t completely botch the experience up!

      1. I’d be daunted by the task too! I think it’s because her writing is so simple somehow? But you captured it perfectly, don’t worry :)

      2. I think that may be it – anything I wrote felt like I was overstating what she managed to say already! Oh how I love hearing from other people who’ve read these books! It gives me so much more to consider and be impressed by!

  2. Not sure if my last comment (citing Shackleton’s autobiography in “Great Stories of the Sea”, and also mentioning another autobiography in the form of Braam Malherbe’s, “The Great Run”) did not appear because it was posted without an authenticated login (would WordPress warn me of that?), or because you are so busy multiplexing reading, writing and the Olympics that you don’t approve comments on old blogs.

    {You are a writer – you could complain that latter was an inordinately long sentence. It isn’t. It is a superbly long phrase :-}

    Whatever the case, here is an errata on the first post, just to see if facebook authentication improves its chances of being published.

    Last night I checked the citation to Shackleton’s abridged autobiography. It is actually a chapter from his autobiography, and appears as follows

    Sir Ernest Shackleton, The Voyage of the James Caird (from “South”), pp 341-356 in
    A.M. Tomlinson (Ed.), Great Sea Stories of all Nations, June 1930



    Tres bien Jamaica, tres bien!

    1. What are the odds that in trying to respond to your comment about having trouble posting, I would write a long detailed response and then have it disappear inexplicably, which has never happened before?! I will have to summarize since the frustration of trying to recreate that again in its entirety is, well, probably familiar to you!

      I do receive an email for every comment posted, regardless of the age of the post, and I do my best to respond to all of them. I didn’t see a comment from you in my spam folder (the other possibility), but if you weren’t signed in to WordPress (a requirement for commenting here), it should have prompted you to do so. I didn’t know that signing in using Facebook was possible, but that also seems to work.

      If you’re up to trying to recreate your original comment in full, I would love to see it, but there’s no pressure! I am a huge Shackleton fan myself, so at the very least, I’m putting his autobiography on my to-read list.

  3. Test : Let’s just try a quick post using email address only, before I post the original again.

    > What are the odds … have it disappear inexplicably, which has never happened before?!

    >> What are the odds that life exists elsewhere in the universe?

    Well, regarding the latter we have one instance here on earth, but a sample size of one does not allow any form of meaningful extrapolation.

    Regarding your question, from the permalink on your reply comment (thank you for that)

    > https://booksjadore.wordpress.com/…/#comment-929

    The odds are probably a bit shorter than 1 in 930 (the fact that it has happened recently possibly increases the probability based on raw statistics) !

    I will post my full reply shortly (either using email authentication or using my Facebook moniker), no need to recreate it, I have learnt from countless times of MS-Outlook crashing on me, when trying to send an email with the only copy I have in the compose window, to not risk original thought to the vagaries of software.


  4. The above “Test:Let’s just try …” posted fine using email authentication, but my original post failed again, the [post comment] button changes to [posting comment] but does not complete.

    The original was not that long (1958 chars – OK which is longer than 1500 which some blog sites limit you to), so maybe one of the character is tripping it up. I will repost it a couple of paragraphs at a time, to figure out what the problem is. First off the extract just under 1500 chars to test that possibility …

    Here follows the original post …

    August 06, 2012 3:22 am

    Hi Maria,

    You may also enjoy the autobiography of Ernest Shackleton’s, when he ventured down to Antarctica. Unlike Scott’s story, this has an upbeat ending when he (and 3 other volunteers) rowed 24 hours solid to get help to save the entire crew of his ship, trapped in ice.

    I encountered the abridged version in

    Sir Ernest Shackleton, The Voyage of the James Caird (from “South”), pp 341-356 in
    A.M. Tomlinson (Ed.), Great Sea Stories of all Nations, June 1930

    but Gutenberg.org have the following free downloads

    South: the story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition by Shackleton

    My South Polar Expedition by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
    MP3 Audio 2.6 MB

    Also of possible interest is “The Great Run”, I believe this is also out in hardcopy (see image 3 below).

  5. The rest (1130 chars) failed – so looks like it is a gremlin character, so going one section at a time now.
    Seems like it is the URL to my adrive public share.

    Also of possible interest is “The Great Run”, I believe this is also out in hardcopy (see image 3 below).

    Replace _ with / to recreate the URL :

    http:__www.adrive.com_public_GkdgmJ_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 01.Jpg

  6. OK – problem solved, for whatever reason, WordPress does not like URLs to ADRIVE (but is happy with Gutenberg).

    So here is the complete tail-end segment, you just need to manually replace _ with / to go to these images. (Next time I will send as bit.ly/ links to save you the effort). Must dash off to watch some Olympics now.

    Also of possible interest is “The Great Run”, I believe this is also out in hardcopy (see image 3 below).

    http:__www.adrive.com_public_GkdgmJ_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 01.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_cfYbjw_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 02.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_M3RqDV_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 03.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_gh5kuH_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 04.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_9rP2ww_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 05.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_n8N3Vk_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 06.Jpg
    http:__www.adrive.com_public_TSxwvb_Braam and the Great Wall Marathon 07.Jpg

    These are my adrive public shares, they expire in two weeks: 2012-08-22(Wed).

    I went to one of his motivational speeches recently (he is also about Lynne Cox’s age, and has ski’ed to the South Pole in addition to running the length of the Great Wall, and now raises funds to perform reconstructive surgery on kids with congenital problems, and also for wildlife conservation).

    Kind regards,

    1. You get the prize for most epic commenting challenge :) I hope it’s not so difficult every time because both of those books sound like great recs and I’m always looking for more!

  7. Written August 11, 2012 8:52 am (but posted as per WordPress timestamp above)

    Thank’s for your time on an extended reply – I hadn’t ignored your first response’s loss, but I did have to dash off to try to see the last Olympic events before it is all over tomorrow. Indeed, as I write, I am keeping an eye on the TV where Mexico are currently leading Brazil 1-0 in the soccer final.

    Indeed I do know your situation well (unsaved work disappearing), and if I cannot do a screen capture of at least part of the email that went to binary heaven, I precede the obligatory follow on email with “I am not going to type out the missing email again”. Strangely enough, with hindsight, I can usually cover the important points in about 1/4 the original length {so I have duly expurgated this original comment to around 25% of the original, I did drop a copy into your inbox if you are curious. Maybe you can get back to some of the points which you wrote originally.}.


    3) Ernest Gowers on Fowler’s Modern English Usage (MEU): It made the name of Fowler a household word in all English-speaking countries. Its influence extended even to the battlefield. “Why must you write intensive here?” asked the Prime Minister in a minute to the director of MI6 about plans for the Normandy invasion. “Intense is the right word. You should read Fowler’s Modern English Usage.”

    What is the secret of its success? It is not that all of Fowler’s opinions are unchallenged. It is not that he is always easy reading. At his best he is incomparable. But he never forgot what he calls “that pestilent fellow the critical reader” who is “not satisfied with catching the general drift and obvious intention of a sentence” but insists that “the words used must … actually yield on scrutiny the desired sense”.

    I must say, when I have ten minutes to spare, I often pick up the MEU and read entries as if reading a few short stories. Henry Fowler is such a card, for example on Split Infinitives (which I had to partially abridge, and if you see gobbledy-gook here ” “, then WordPress cannot read basic html, and probably neither can you) :-

    The English-speaking world may be divided into
      1) Those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is;
      2) Those who do not know, but care very much;
      3) Those who know and condemn;
      4) Those who know and approve; and
      5) Those who know and distinguish.

    A takeaway

    So the librarian chastised Paddy when he returned the dictionary 6 months late. “Surely you didn’t need it all this time?”
    Crestfallen Paddy responds, “Mrs Shay, I read it beginning to end! I must admit the storyline was a bit hard to follow, but at least they explained everything in detail as they went along :¬)


    I also recommend that you add the following to your reading list,
    , “The Professor and the Madman”, approx 2004.
    It is also in the genre of an autobiography (have you started yours yet?)


    … this eccentric English master persistently marking us down according to his own rules, with his own unique marking terminology. … He claimed that you cannot start a sentence with And, But or So. Writers I respect do so without the sky falling down, and if you care to check, I did [now “had done”] so above without the English Police descending on me with batons and cuffs. Your opinion?

  8. Cross-pollination of ideas between posts that went to binary heaven, and haiku :-

    Your problem “I would write a long detailed response and then have it disappear inexplicably” [https://booksjadore.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/swimming-to-antarctica-lynne-cox/#comment-929]
    described in a nutshell

          Having been erased,
          The document you’re seeking
          Must now be retyped.

          Three things are certain:
          Death, taxes, and lost data.
          Guess which has occurred.

    And I was not the first to string together “Hi, coo” :-

          Hi,coo, coo, coo, coo
          coo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo,
          coo. Look! she’s smiling!

    All the above from [http:__www.ablemuse.com_erato_showthread.php?t=2506]

    According to the below, Haiku maybe could be used in a humourous vein just like the limerick :-

    The word “haiku” is composed of two parts, “hai” and “ku”, and it is the meaning of the former which is often forgotten or never learnt in the first place, creating one of the most serious flaws in Western writing of haiku. The “hai” is part of another word “hai-kai” of Chinese origin, whose Japanese equivalent is “kokkei”. Now, the word “kokkei” can be variously translated into English: comicality, drollery, waggery, jocularity, joke, jest, pleasantry, humour, witticism, pun, farce, funny things etc. etc. No problem with the word “ku”, since everybody seems to know what it means, namely a stanza, or a piece of poetry.

    bush warbler —
    a dropping on the rice cake
    at the veranda’s edge!

    — Matsuo Basho

    And the best has been saved till last :

    Rapprochement between Haiku Honey and the Limerick Lover :

          There was an old man
          From Peru, whose lim’ricks all
          Look’d like haiku. He

          Said with a laugh “I
          Cut them in half, the pay is
          Much better for two.”


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