An awesome study in immersion from long-distance swimmer Cox.
Pools never seemed enough for the author as a girl: too confining, without room to stretch her frame, no rhythm or tempo to the water. Cox had her first experience with wide-open water in bad weather before she reached her teens; she felt exultant, and the experience had the inevitability of a calling. Here, she recounts those early days in melodiously bright prose—at times a little too bright (“I loved gathering brilliantly colored leaves in fall, and building snow caves in the winter. But I knew that I wanted to be a great swimmer”), but mostly a satisfying counterpart to the punishing conditions. At first, the swims were long and hard, though Cox had an ace up her sleeve: as one doctor explained, “Your proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced so you don't float or sink in the water; you're at one with the water.” She tore up the record book in terms of times and first crossings, meanwhile learning that it was not just about swimming, but also about logistics and contending with stuff in the water, like garbage, dead rats, the slipstream of tankers, and creatures of the deep. (Off the Cape of Good Hope, one of her tenders mentioned, “a twelve-foot bronze whaler shark came out of the kelp for you. He had his mouth open all the way.”) Cox’s early, unfeigned innocence—as she completed her record-shattering English Channel swim, she noted that she’d never been to France before—was slowly eclipsed by a determination to confront the iciest of waters. Her mile-long swim in 32-degree water off Antarctica was a (literally) mind-boggling investigation into extremes, but Cox wanted to do more than test limits of human endurance; she also aspired to serve as an ambassador of peace in her swims across international waters.
An otherworldly existence brought hugely to life.