swimming coach said, "Lynne Cox is not fast or stylish. She doesn't kick
properly and she's not competitive." He was not being cruel, just
realistic. A Dover cabdriver, upon hearing that Lynne Cox planned to swim the
English Channel, added another view. "She's too fat," he said. And
Lynne offers her own candid analysis. "I don't kick. I do have lazy legs. I
just move my feet a little to take away the drag." Yet at the age of 18,
Lynne Cox, a California high school senior, is the fastest Channel swimmer in
the world. So much for analysis.
In a few days
now—these things are always inexact because of tides and weather—Lynne will
attempt her toughest swim so far, the 16-mile Cook Strait between New Zealand's
North and South islands. In the long history of point-to-point swimming only
three men have made it across that channel, where currents are fierce and
sharks abound. The odds against success are long. Why even attempt it? To
understand what drives Lynne to such watery excesses, one must go back a
The Cox family
moved West from New Hampshire five years ago so the kids could swim year round.
And they all do: Lynne's sisters Ruth, 12, and Laura, 15, swim competitively
and play water polo. (Laura is the only girl on the Los Alamitos High School
water polo team.), Brother Dave, 20, attends Brigham Young University on a
Lynne also has
done some competitive swimming in regulation pools, but she doesn't like the
confinement and routine, the lanes and pool edges, swimming those same 50
meters back and forth. And she doesn't like the absence of nature—no weeds
slipping through her fingers, no jellyfish to dodge, no pelicans with whom to
develop rapport. Not to mention the absence of success. "I get tired of 10-
and 11-year-old kids passing me," she says.
So in July 1972
she swam the English Channel in nine hours, 57 minutes—26 minutes faster than
any man or woman before. Her record lasted just three weeks. Davis Hart,
another American, beat it by 13 minutes. Naturally Lynne went back the next
summer, slipped into the water at Shakespeare Beach and made the crossing in a
new world-record time of 9:36. That one still stands.
Lynne swam the 21 miles between Palos Verdes and Catalina Island in eight
hours, 48 minutes, another record. The one she broke was held by her
most often perform at night, when the sea tends to be calm and the wind low.
Calm and low they were on Sept. 10, when Lynne took her turn. She had made the
crossing once before, when she was 14. That was her first swim over three
miles, and she had done it with five friends. This time Lynne had two
world-record English Channel swims behind her. And this time, too, she would be
going after Dave's record.
Lynne waded into
calm water off Catalina at 11:21 p.m. and began to swim. She had never seen a
night so black. Thick fog covered the channel and made it spooky. The "red
tide"—a seasonal population explosion among billions of one-celled
plantlike animals—phosphoresced. In the distance, the light of the Bandido,
Lynne's 55-foot escort boat, probed faintly through the fog. The murk was
intimidating, too intimidating. From the water Lynne yelled that she wanted to
talk to her parents.
Dr. and Mrs.
Albert Cox left the Bandido in a small boat and started toward Lynne, who was
some 500 yards away. Immediately they became lost in the fog. They began to
circle, and two hours and six minutes after Lynne had begun swimming they found
her, sobbing, done in.
disorienting effects of the foggy night could be blamed for the failure, as
could overtraining, the pressure of publicity and the lack of someone alongside
talking to Lynne and keeping her swimming. But Lynne says, "I think it was
just a lack of confidence in myself at the time." Her father agrees.
"Attitude is 75% of distance swimming," he says. "She just didn't
have things straight in her mind."