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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 25, 2005

Long-Distance Swimming Legend Lynne Cox Reads March 10 On WSUI

Long-distance swimming legend Lynne Cox will read from her book "Swimming to Antarctica," at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 10 on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910.

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event at the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. Listen on the Internet at http://wsui.uiowa.edu.

Cox has said, "If you use your heart and mind, you can push your body further than you ever thought and find something new that you didn't know before," and she has proved it. After warming up by swimming from Catalina Island to California and setting a new record for the English-Channel swim at the age of 15, she became the first person to swim the Cook Strait in New Zealand, the Strait of Magellan, the Cape of Good Hope and the Bering Strait -- and the first to swim a mile in the Antarctic Ocean.

As critic John Moe put it, "Just about every other person in the world seems like an unfocused dilettante compared to long-distance swimming legend Lynne Cox. . . . For thrills and inspiration, it's hard to find anyone better than Lynne Cox."

Erica Sanders wrote in the New York Times, "For Lynne Cox, not much happens on dry land. . . . she seems most at home in the water. Extremely cold water. In 2002, at 45, wearing just a bathing suit, goggles and a swimming cap, she became the first person to swim a mile in the near-freezing Antarctic Ocean. Most people would die within minutes if they were immersed in water that was less than 50 degrees, but Cox has made a career out of pushing this limit. . . .

"When she was a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Cox and her remarkable physiology began to attract the attention of medical researchers, they discovered that she possessed 'neutral buoyancy' because her 'proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced.' She expends her energy moving forward, not fighting to stay afloat. Her evenly distributed body fat acts like 'an internal wet suit.' The researchers also learned that she was so fit, she did not get colder at the core, as most people do on their way to becoming hypothermic. In freezing water she was able to maintain and even increase her body temperature.

"Cox is not inured to the cold, but she works hard mentally to control its effects. In recounting her adventures, she provides a steady narrative of her thoughts, making it plain just how easy it is for someone with her experience to let doubts, fears and gathering impatience undermine her focus.

"Of course, there are other challenges to overcome. She encounters sharks, rocks and barnacles that slice, and kelp that pricks like rose thorns. She endures microscopic mosquito larvae in Lake Myvatn in Iceland, whose bite results in something akin to hives. Battling dysentery, she swims a 15-mile stretch of the Nile, pushing through raw sewage and rotting animal carcasses.

"It helps, too, that she possesses a high pain threshold. The near-frozen water, she writes, makes her face feel 'as if it has been shot full of novocaine and it's separating from my skull.' Unable to feel her extremities, she can only see how cold she is by eyeing the color of her skin. If she slips into shock from the cold, her brain may be too oxygen-starved to tell her to get out of the water.

"The Antarctic is particularly cruel. She prepared for two years to meet the extreme conditions. In addition to strength, speed and cardiac training, she considered what exposure to the frigid air, in conjunction with water that hovered at or just above 32 degrees, would do to her body.

"She had silver fillings removed and received fluoride treatments so her teeth would not shatter. She grew her toenails to protect her toes from rocks. Earplugs were specially molded to shield her eardrums and brain.

"The swim itself, made in the Gerlache Strait to the beach at Neko Harbor, was not without drama. Swimming with her head down, she was nearly knocked unconscious by large chunks of ice. Nerve damage from a practice swim made it difficult for her to read how she was reacting to the cold. Mysterious currents sapped her strength.

"After reading Cox's story, one finds it hard not to ask, 'Why so cold, why so wet?' But as someone who is clearly most comfortable in the water, she may just as easily respond, 'Why dry?'"

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu