Swimming to Antarctica

February 20, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Swimming | Leave a comment

The book we’ve been reading together as a family is called Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox.  It has been a fun journey so far, though we are only 1/3 the way through.  It’s the autobiography of a girl who was on swim teams all her early life, but never was very fast; however, she learned that she could go forever, and even seemed to get stronger the farther she swam.  So she began doing long open-water swims.  At fifteen, she swam the English Channel, not only to become the youngest to accomplish the feat, but she beat the old record (both men’s and women’s!) in the process.

There have been some good life lessons along the way.  One of the more memorable lessons had to do with Lynne’s first channel swimming experience.  She swam from Catalina Island to California with a group of teenagers who were training together.  They would be the youngest team to complete the swim, and they had agreed to finish together.  As the others got weaker, she just kept going.  Three times she got a half mile ahead of the others and had to wait for them.  Then:

We pulled a couple of miles ahead of the team and Stockwell shouted, “Lynne, you’re more than an hour ahead of the world-record pace.  Not just the women’s world record, but also the men’s.  I just spoke with Ron,” he added (Ron was the team coach).  “He said you don’t have to wait for the others.  You can go ahead.”

More than anything, I wanted to attempt it, and I was confident I could succeed.  We were only three miles from shore.  It was so possible.  But it didn’t feel right; I had agreed to stay with the team.  .  .  .  How would they feel if I left them to break the record?  Wouldn’t that diminish the attention they deserved for their success?  .  .  .

The lead boat pulled alongside us while, while the crew on board was urging me to go for it.  My father was standing quietly near the railing.  “You look very good,” he said, and smiled.  .  .  .

“Dad, do you think I should go for the record?”

“It’s your decision, sweet.”

“You’ll be the youngest person to hold the record for the Catalina Channel,” Stockwell urged.

Johnson added, “If you wait for the others, you could be in the water another three or four extra hours.”

As I treaded water, others shouted encouragement.  “Go for the record!”

“I want to so badly, but I can’t.  I agreed to stick with the team.”  I was disappointed, but I knew it was the right decision.  (page 53)

Later on shore, with the news reporting that this was the youngest group to ever swim the Catalina Channel, the boys of the team who sprinted that last few hundred yards, boasted that they swam ten minutes faster than the girls.  “That made me angry,” Lynne confesses, “but I didn’t say anything.  I decided I was going to swim the English Channel and I wasn’t going to wait for anyone.” (page 55)  Needless to say, that led us to a great discussion of integrity.





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