Open Water Swim Great Pays a Visit

Gorbachev toasted her at I.N.F. Treaty signing
Lori King, at right, said it was “incredible being in the presence” of Lynne Cox. Jack Graves

   Lynne Cox, whose two record-breaking crossings of the English Channel when she was 15 and 16 years old served as a prelude to an astounding open water career during which she has conquered the Bering Strait, the Straits of Magellan and Gibraltar, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Catalina Channel, among other daunting challenges, was here Sunday, signing copies at the Gubbins New Balance store of her “Open Water Swimming Manual: An Expert’s Survival Guide for Triathletes and Open Water Swimmers.”
    “It was incredible being in her presence,” said Lori King of Rockville Centre and Amagansett, who won the recent Montauk Playhouse 2-mile swim spanning the Kirk Park and Ditch Plain beaches. “Just thinking of where her body and mind have been. In her books, she takes you into her mind — you feel like you’re experiencing what she is. . . . She’s inspiring.”
    King had asked Cox, who lives in Southern California, not long ago whether she thought she was prepared for a Catalina Channel crossing, and was told not to attempt it until she’d become thoroughly acclimated to cold water conditions. Armed with a training regimen provided by Cox, King said she’d begin cold water swimming with the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers this fall, “probably three times a week — no wetsuit.” And, should all go well, she’ll do Catalina a year from now.
    Tim Treadwell, who coaches masters and open water swimmers here (the open water swimmers at the Albert’s Landing beach on Gardiner’s Bay Monday and Friday mornings at 9:30) receives a mention in the guide, which is as thorough a one as can be imagined.
    “I met her through Sophie French, a mutual friend [and swimming student of his],” said Treadwell. “She’s one of my heroes. We hit it off right away. I told her about our open water swimming program and the masters group too.”
    Cox was to have visited Treadwell and his fellow lifeguards, who had on Sunday morning been monitoring the junior lifeguard tournament at Indian Wells Beach, after her stint at Gubbins.
    One of the reasons Cox’s family moved when she was young from New England to Southern California had to do with her and her siblings’ desire to be taught by the four-time Olympic coach Don Gambril.
    “Everyone came to him, from all over,” Cox said. “I watched and learned from the best in the world. . . . My intent in this manual has been to pass along to beginning, intermediate, and advanced triathletes and open water swimmers what I’ve learned over the years from expert swimmers and coaches, as well as the expert advice I’ve sought out from marine biologists, physiologists, doctors, U.S. Navy Seals. . . . It’s been likened in this respect to Jim Fixx’s ‘The Complete Book of Running.’ ”
    That her manual has been selling well — copies are available at the Gubbins New Balance store — testifies apparently to a surge in open water swimming interest. “Older people, especially runners who’ve sustained hip or knee injuries over time, are getting into it . . . all ages, as a matter of fact — from 4 to 5 to 85 or 86.”
    Cox, a hero to many, said she had her heroes too — Steve Prefontaine, Greg LeMond, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Jacki Hansen among them. “Extraordinary people who have given me their gifts.”
     There were strong parallels between the minds of long-distance swimmers and runners, she added. “When you’re running or swimming, you have that freeing, joyful sense of being in tune with the environment, of clearing your mind. Yet in both sports you rely very much on others. It’s all about safety, which I’ve emphasized in this book.”
    King, when asked if she thought Cox were “fearless,” replied, “I think she’s always had what I’d call a healthy fear. And, consequently, she’s always been prepared.”
    Her most difficult swim had been the (51-mile) Bering Strait, said Cox. “It took 11 years to get permission from Gorbachev. I did it in 1987. I was 30 then, and I wanted to show how close the two countries, the two peoples, were. . . . Yes, it was political. I’ve always believed that sport can open borders.”
    Her contribution toward the thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations was toasted by Gorbachev a few months later when he and Ronald Reagan signed the I.N.F. missile treaty.