Swimming to Antarctica
About the book:
Now in paperback, with photos and maps added especially for this new edition, here is the acclaimed life story of a woman whose drive and determination inspire everyone she touches.
Lynne Cox started swimming almost as soon as she could walk. By age sixteen, she had broken all records for swimming the English Channel. Her daring eventually led her to the Bering Strait, where she swam five miles in thirty-eight-degree water in just a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. In between those accomplishments, she became the first to swim the Strait of Magellan, narrowly escaped a shark attack off the Cape of Good Hope, and was cheered across the twenty-mile Cook Strait of New Zealand by dolphins. She even swam a mile in the Antarctic.
Lynne writes the same way she swims, with indefatigable spirit and joy, and shares the beauty of her time in the water with a poet’s eye for detail. She has accomplished yet another feat–writing a new classic of sports memoir.
About the author:
LYNNE COX has set records all over the world for open-water swimming. She was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2000, honored with a lifetime achievement award from the University of California–Santa Barbara, and worked for six years as a research librarian in Orange County. She lives in Los Alamitos, California.
Using This Guide
Swimming to Antarctica offers a wide range of opportunities for further inquiry and reflection. So that readers may tailor their discussions, this guide presents various categories of topics covering personal growth, physical fitness, armchair travel, and a closer look at the storytelling itself.
Championing Your Life: Inspiration for Personal Growth
1. What goals could Lynne’s memoir inspire you to pursue? At the moment, what is your Antarctica?
2. Discuss the various obstacles you perceive in reaching that goal. Is there a common denominator among them? As a group, develop detailed action plans for overcoming these obstacles, using the short-term and long-range approaches described in the book.
3. What do the italicized passages tell us about Lynne’s techniques in coaching herself? Arranging your discussion group in pairs, create messages for one another that echo Lynne’s realistic but encouraging self-talk.
4. In the first chapter, Lynne recalls asking a childhood friend for the secret to becoming a fast swimmer. Joyce replied that she simply did what her coach asked of her. How can we discern whether a coach or mentor is trustworthy? Whom will you invite to be part of your team of "life coaches"?
5. Swimming to Antarctica provides much insight into the art of persuasion. What techniques did Lynne use to persuade others, from Soviet officials to New Zealand fans, to share in her dream? Discuss the toughest naysayer in your life. Through role-playing, enlist other group members to explore the process of changing this person’s point of view.
6. In her afterword, Lynne shares an anecdote about a schoolboy who asked her how she would respond to failure. Her solution is not to lower the bar; she even suggests that in such situations, perhaps the bar hasn’t been raised high enough. She prescribes learning from a defeat and then persisting in new attempts. What past defeats still trouble you? How would it feel to revisit this attempt, raising the bar even higher next time?
1. Lynne often dispelled stereotypes about gender and body type in her encounters around the world; her physiology was actually ideal for the challenges of long-distance swimming. Have you ever been "mislabeled" in a gym setting? How would you characterize your best athletic attributes? What forms of exercise come naturally to you?
2. Choose a physical-fitness goal that you would like to achieve six months from now. Choose an additional one that will require two years to achieve. How can you apply Lynne’s process and timelines to these aspirations? Her steps include acclimating herself, training in waters similar to the final course, and finding experienced navigators. What similar steps will you need to take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? What role model will you choose within this field? What world record would you most like to set?
3. For safety as well as inspiration, measurement and mathematics were essential to Lynne’s progress, from assessing her speed to undergoing numerous medical tests. Before embarking on any fitness program, you should consult a physician. But the consultation should provide you with more than anecdotal information; it’s an opportunity to begin tracking all of the data related to your health. Create a notebook or electronic database that combines both your "vital statistics" and the progress of your athletic goals. Who will be on your team of statisticians?
4. From swimming in a hailstorm as a child to watching twenty-foot waves crest at the Cape of Good Hope, Lynne is continually drawn to the most dramatic conditions nature has to offer. How does nature become both her companion and her competitor? What do you think accounts for the distinction between athletes who excel in these rugged, unpredictable settings and those whose milieu is an indoor lane or court? What workout settings do you prefer?
5. Lynne relies solely on her body’s own capabilities in reaching her goals, swimming without a wetsuit and carefully guarding her health before each event. What enables her to avoid the temptations of steroid use or other performance enhancers? In your opinion, what separates "purist" athletes from the rest?
Globetrotting with Lynne Cox
1. Choosing from the many locales visited in Swimming to Antarctica, assign a destination to each of your group members to research. In a subsequent meeting, share travelogues discussing cultural customs, cuisine, weather conditions, topography, and other interesting features.
2. The challenges described in the book range from the concrete (sharks, fog) to the abstract (distrust, lack of imagination on the part of her sponsors). What challenges were particular to each location?
3. Create a timeline of Lynne’s swims. How have political conditions changed (if at all) in each of these settings since she visited them? What accounts for the distinction between stability and instability in these regions? What made Lynne’s long-distance swims such a politically charged endeavor in some locations but not in others?
4. Lynne writes that her experience in Egypt taught her how to recognize her own limitations. What did the outcome of this particular trip also teach her about nationality, gender perceptions around the world, and preparing for international travel in general?
5. If you had an unlimited budget, which of the book’s locations would you most like to visit? What would your itinerary look like? What items would you pack? Which traveling companions would you bring?
A Closer Reading
1. Reread the prologue. What new significance does this scene take, in light of her lifelong journey? How did your initial impressions of her Bering Strait experience compare to your understanding of it toward the end of the book?
2. Discuss the contributions Lynne’s parents made to her success. What behaviors did they model for their children? How does her story affect your perception of nature versus nurture in predicting a child’s future?
3. How does Lynne balance optimism with naiveté and exhilaration with caution? What lessons does she share about being “fearless”?
4. How do you perceive the spiritual experiences Lynne describes, such as her receipt of a Zulu blessing and the dolphins that guided her to safety after she asked for God’s help?
5. Though training was extraordinarily time-consuming, Lynne was dedicated to classroom studies as well, from elementary school through college. To what do you attribute her overall desire for success? Her need for a balanced life? What does her experience illustrate about the keys to academic achievement?
6. Discuss the literary devices that make Swimming to Antarctica such a compelling read. What correlation might there be between Lynne’s skill as a storyteller and her skill as a long-distance swimmer? Do those activities share any common ground?
About the Author
Lynne Cox currently coaches in the corporate arena, delivering motivational speeches before numerous Fortune 500 companies. She was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year, inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame, and honored with a lifetime achievement award from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is also a prolific writer, with articles appearing in such publications as the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she now resides in Los Alamitos, California, where she has lived for much of her life.
Critical acclaim for Swimming to Antarctica:
"Ultimately, Cox’s memoir is about the joy of exploring the impossible. She’s done things the rest of us can only imagine-and she’s written a book that helps us to imagine them with clarity and wonder."-The Boston Globe
"Gripping reading . . . Swimming to Antarctica is a portrait of rare and relentless drive."-Sports Illustrated
"Thrilling, vivid, and lyrical, an inspiring account of a life of aspiration and adventure."-Oliver Sacks