This is an update on a post I wrote last summer on swimmer Lynne Cox. In that piece — based on interviews with Lynne and a reading of her book, Swimming to Antarctica — I went into some detail on the psychological strategies and mental toughness that Lynne has employed over her 40 years of extreme swimming (long-distance, cold water swims). One particular swim that I focused on was her crossing of the Cook Strait, between the North and South islands of New Zealand. This can be a treacherous stretch of water in which to swim due to rapidly changing weather and water conditions, tidal flows, marine predators, and — oh yeah — pretty cold water!
In my interviews with Lynne, she has talked about the fundamental importance of having a trusted team to help guide her (literally and emotionally) during difficult swims. The New Zealand swim was particularly challenging and required more support than usual.
“I looked at the map,” Cox said, “and thought: ‘Oh, it’s ten miles. It’ll take me four hours to do it.’ So after five hours of swimming I asked how close to shore we were and they said I was still five hours away (laughing). I learned then, you can’t predetermine the amount of time you’re going to swim before you take off. It’s very much like life: you start on shore and you finish on shore but you don’t know when you’re going to finish. Keep going and adapting to whatever the conditions are and draw strength from the people who are encouraging you.” At that crucial juncture, when she was still five hours away and considering ending the attempt, Cox was told that New Zealanders were following the swim closely on the radio. She felt a tremendous boost from this and was able to renew her energy to continue her attempt…
And then an unexpected form of support arose from the ocean itself, described in this excellent short documentary from Weather Films. It is the fourth episode of Grid Breakers and is titled “Saved by Dolphins.” I think it gives a whole new meaning to team support. And reminds us that we should be open to getting support whenever and wherever we can.