Monday, January 19, 2009

An Asteroid Named Lynne Cox

Lynne Cox is a long-distance open-water swimmer and writer. At age 15, she and her teammates were the first group of teenagers to complete the crossing of the Catalina Island Channel in California. (Funnily enough, she was always the slowest swimmer in her swim classes. Love that!) She has twice held the record for the fastest crossing (men or women) of the English Channel. In 1975, Lynne became the first woman to swim the Cook Strait in New Zealand. In 1976, she was the first to swim the Straits of Magellan in Chile, and the first to swim around the Cape Point in South Africa, where she had to contend with the risk of meeting sharks, jellyfish, and sea snakes.

Lynne is perhaps best known for swimming the Bering Strait from the island of Little Diomede in Alaska to Big Diomede, then part of the Soviet Union, where the water temperature averaged around 4°C (40°F). Her accomplishment eased Cold War tensions as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev both praised her success.

Lynne swam more than a mile in the freezing waters of Antarctica.
Although hypothermia would afflict most humans within five minutes, she was in the water for 25 minutes, swimming 1.06 miles. Her first book, Swimming to Antarctica, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2004.

She was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in 2000, and was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine. In 2004, Sports Illustrated listed her book in their Top Ten Books.

Her second book, the bestselling Grayson, a true account of her encounter with a lost baby gray whale during an early morning workout off the coast of California, was published in 2006.Kirkus described her book as "An inspirational, almost spiritual read." Jane Goodall called Lynne "... a master of story telling" and "a powerful voice for conservation.”

Lynne Cox has been my personal hero for years and I had the great fortune to hear her speak last year at UCSB. I also was able to temporarily slay my shyness (read catatonic state) to introduce myself. And, did NOT lose my cookies all over her shoes like I worried I might. Having the chance to interview Lynne here at Shrinking Violets will forever remain a true highlight of 2009.

MH: I'd like to ask you a couple of questions about introversion and a few about book promotions. In the Jungian definition, Introverts gather energy from within themselves vs. extraverts who gather energy from other people. Given that definition and your choice of sport, I'm starting with the assumption that you have a lot of common to introverts. :-)

Would you call yourself an introvert using the Jungian definition? Do you find swimming a place to go inside yourself and recharge?

LC: I think I'm really both introverted and extroverted if that's possible to be both. Yes, you're right, swimming is my meditative place where I can go inside myself and think about what I'm writing about. It is a think tank for me where I do a lot of my musing. But I like to be around people when I'm out of the water, to learn from them, to hear about their life experiences, and to think about them and their experiences when I'm in the water.

MH: How do you recharge when you are away from swimming?

LC: When I'm not swimming, I find other ways of exercising the mind and the body at the same time :) I go to the gym, go on hikes, kayak with a friend, and space out a lot.

MH: What mode of promotion do you most enjoy? Signings? Speeches? Teaching? Limo rides to swanky hotels? (Smile) Other?

LC: Actually I enjoy it all because I realize that I've been given the opportunity to meet people who are reading my work who are touched by it in one way or another. I love getting a chance to meet these readers at the signings and because of the nature of the books I write, I have a huge range of age groups represented. From what I've discovered from talking with them, they all have a real zest and wonder about life. The speeches are great because I have the opportunity to inspire, inform, and make people smile. The teaching comes out through all of it, although sometimes I get asked really intense questions and it's hard to come up with a really helpful answer right there on the spot. The Limo rides are fun, and actually so helpful because when you're on the book or lecture tour you're really focused on what you're going to say, and it's hard to find your way around a new city, especially if you've been traveling a lot and are sleep deprived.

MH: Conversely, which is the hardest for you?

LC: The hardest part is being tired after a long tour and not wanting that to come across to people because have taken time out of their day, their lives, to come and see you. And when you're on tour the schedule is so varied that there is little time to be a lone to think or gear down. Not having alone time makes it tough.

MH: Finish this sentence: The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me while promoting my book was . . .

LC: Someone asked me how I recovered the thermo pill after my swim across the Bering Strait. I told him what the doctor/research physiologist told me,"a plastic bag will work nicely."

MH: Is there anything that you've been asked by your editor/agent/publicist to do to promote your books that you just can't bring yourself to do?

LC: No. I feel like we are really part of a team and my editor, agent, and publicist are completely there for me. I know that we're all doing our best. If something happens that I don't understand, I just ask, and then I understand and we move forward.

MH: You clearly are a woman that does not shy away from a challenge. Any advice that you can give us about how you have learned to pursue your goals even when you might be afraid?

LC: I just learned this this weekend from Sarah Andrews, a best selling writer and famous geologist that if you don't ask for something, you are guaranteed a "no". The implication is that if you ask, if you try, you might get a yes, you might achieve what you set out to do.

MH: What is your promotion/production ratio? How much time do you spend promoting vs. writing. Does that work for you? Or, is your promotion schedule more demanding than you would like it to be?

LC: My work and promotional time is pretty null. Right now for instance, I'm working on the next book, and in the midst of that, I am giving speeches, doing some book signings, and attending some special events. The challenge is to go from that fast pace and switch to becoming the introvert again and writing.

MH: Is there a work in progress that you'd like to tell us about? Swimming or writing?

LC: I have my first children's book that will be published by Random House that will come out in 2011, and I am working on a larger adult book now but I'm still in the middle of telling the story, so I need to write it before I can talk about it.

MH: You have been such an inspiration to me for years now, Lynne. Who inspires you? Or, which introvert, living or not-so-much, would you most like to have dinner with?

LC: Thank you Mary. It's so cool that I've inspired you. There are so many people who inspire me: parents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, people I meet on the air plane, people I've met in the military, fire department, people who serve: nurses, doctors, and so many others. What has always inspired me beyond that are people who explore and put themselves way out there to discover something new about the world and themselves.

The asteroid 37588 Lynne Cox was named in her honor.

* * *

In honor of Lynne's interview with us today, you can win a copy of either Swimming to Antartica or Grayson by being the first person to answer this question about Lynne correctly:What color is the wetsuit that she uses to complete her ocean swims? Best of luck!


R.L. LaFevers said...

Great interview, Mary! And thank you, Lynne, for letting us pick your wonderful brain. My favorite is that she was the slowest in her swim class. LOVE that part a lot!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! What an amazing woman. I would LOVE to win one of her books! (So I'll guess that her wetsuit was blue.) :)

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks, Shari, for your guess. Her wetsuit is NOT blue. :-)

And, yeah, the woman and her books are truly extraordinary. Lord.

Mary Hershey

Emily Ruth said...

I've been lurking around svp for awhile and I must say, I quite love it here :)

I read she has a sort of "internal wet suit" with an insulating layer of fat that keeps the blood warm... But I'm not sure if that's what you're talking about. If it is, I would absolutely LOVE a copy of Grayson! (if we can pick...)

I am completely in awe of this incredible woman. Looks like I've got a new hero :)
Thanks so much for sharing; keep these amazing posts coming!

Mary Hershey said...

Yes, Emily Ruth! It was a trick question, 'cos I'm a tricky thing. She doesn't wear a wetsuit!!!! Not even while swimming to Antartica. If you'll email me off-line at, I'll get your address. Grayson is yours. It is a gorgeous, amazing read.

Mary Hershey

Emily Ruth said...

Thank you so much :)
I can't wait to read Grayson!

Anonymous said...

I am almost done with her Swimming to Antarctica and am really enjoying it. My only regret is that there are not any pictures there nor on the internet. Why not? It would be interesting to see what she looked like during her earlier, as well as later, years after such an interesting life.