Lynne Cox - Pioneer

There was an article published the other day on none other than Lynne Cox, one of the most influential “founding mothers” of our sport of open water swimming.  It was published by ESPN, and they really got it right on this one.

As you will see from the article, for the last 40 years, Lynne has swum virtually every major swim ever heard of around the world, and has set world records in the process for a number of them, including the English Channel and the Catalina Channel.  Perhaps more remarkable are the swims that she has completed that aren’t in the “heard of” category, including Alaska, Antarctica, Greenland, and lots of other places whose climates and weather make the swims – shall we say – inhospitable.

Lynne has a pretty unique makeup, which is found both in her physiology and in her mental fortitude.  Her physiology allows her to withstand extreme cold water temperatures.  Let’s review:

  • Kids will complain when the water in a backyard pool falls below 80 degrees
  • Without acclimation, 68 degree water will take your breath away
  • During our English Channel swim, the water was 62 degrees the whole way, which was comfortable enough because of the amount of training we did at 53 – 59 degrees
  • An organization, called the International Ice Swimming Association, will give you a plaque if you complete a mile swim at 41 or below; fewer than 10 Americans have received that plaque (I am not one of them)
  • At temperatures below 40 degrees, life expectancy is measured in minutes, if not seconds
  • Lynne Cox swam a mile in Antarctica in 31 degree water, and she did it in less than 30 minutes
  • She has logged a number of other swims, some as low as 26 degrees

To say that Lynne has a unique physical makeup to be able to withstand extreme cold for extended periods would be an understatement.  It is her mental fortitude, though, that really sets her apart.

Just getting your mind around extreme cold can be daunting.  Imagine organizing a cold water swim that no one has ever even contemplated before.  Imagine climbing into water in which you and the experts do not know the impact that the water will have, and what the experts DO know is all bad.  Imagine scheduling a swim in which you know that the conditions will make you not think clearly, let alone prevent your arms and legs to pull you from its grasp.  Even imagining those things requires the mental toughness that is the exclusive franchise of fearless pioneers, thinking of Sir Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and Felix Baumgartner all rolled into one.

I have known of Lynne for many years, and several months ago Susan and I were included in a dinner with her near Chicago.  The dinner was hosted by Bill Lee, who has been a close friend of Lynne’s since high school and who is the “mother hen” in the attached story.  To me, it was like being the Computer Science 101 student having dinner with Bill Gates, or the summer stock actor grabbing a coffee with Robert DeNiro.

As all stories of magic and charm will go, so went our evening with Lynne.  She was humble, self-effacing and, well, charming, all while punctuating her stories with an infectious laugh.  Deep down, I know that she has met with an uncountable number of other open water swimmers and wannabes, and I am certain that every single one of them came away feeling like they had made a new friend in Lynne.  We are no different; Susan and I found a new friend that evening, and we are the better for it.

Enjoy the attached article.  After you read what Lynne can do in insanely cold water, my hunch is that you will want to put on a sweater.

See you at the beach.