Here’s a 1974 photo of Lynne Cox, who is the greatest long-distance swimmer alive:
She is, by her own description, a short fat girl who was always a slow lane swimmer. But she loved the water, and found that she could go forever even in cold temperatures– in 1971, at the age of 14, she swam the Catalina Strait, a 27-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. For fun.
She did it again the following year and smashed both the men’s and women’s records for that distance. While still a teenager, she also broke the men’s and women’s records for the English Channel swim– twice. In her 40-year career, she has completed cold-water swims in oceans, rivers, and lakes around the world.
She’s punched her fist through a dead dog in the Nile while reaching for her next stroke. She’s had to take a guy with a spear gun along to protect her from sharks off the Cape of Good Hope. She swam a mile in Antarctic waters wearing only a Speedo tank suit and a swimming hat. And she’s done it all without worrying about how her butt looks while she’s doing it.
In fact, according to an ESPN interview, “She doesn’t think her middle-aged body is perfect, but, ever the positive thinker, she knows it’s perfect for what she does with it. It’s what enables her to survive swims in freezing water.”
Not About the Records
In her book, Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, it becomes clear that, although Cox is extraordinarily tenacious and determined, she’s not a killer competitor. She’s not out to smash every record going. She simply loves to swim, and loves adventure. And eventually, she began to see the news coverage generated by her swims as a tool for bringing people together, as the sleepy-voiced guy says in this video below:
The biggest example of this type of politically-motivated swim was a short course she swam in 1987 between two islands off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Strait. It just so happened that a maritime boundary lay between the islands: to the west, the United States; to the east, the Soviet Union.
This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision: Cox had to lobby the US government to obtain permission for this swim for ten full years. One of the conditions she had to meet was that she allow herself to be monitored by scientists who didn’t understand how Cox managed to survive these freezing, hours-long immersions. And the only way to monitor her core temperature through the entire swim? A probe up her bum.
That’s right: this woman, at the risk of death and/or causing an international incident, swam through frigid waters with a metal suppository shoved up her back passage.
Here’s an excerpt from her memoir describing an early experience with the probe in a laboratory:
This may all sound insane to you, but consider: this woman loved the idea of doing something so much; she believed so fiercely in its power to change people, that she spent a decade of her life harassing the Federal Government and then retained a thermometer in her rectum to make sure it got done.
We should all be so lucky to find anything we’d go that far for.
- Here’s a map of all Lynne’s swims, from age 14 onwards.
- Here’s a link to her 2012 TEDx talk.
- Here’s “A Dip in the Cold” which she wrote for The New Yorker in 2008 that talks about her decision to swim the North West Passage route in the Arctic Ocean.