Sunday, August 30, 2009
SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA
Antarctica is fast developing into a land, or I should say, a continent for innumerable and diverse kind of adventures. However, Antarctica itself is not new to adventure. It has received adventurers and tested their stamina, strength, endurance and abilities for over a century. Even when commuting to Antarctica is becoming easier and faster each year, and man having almost colonized it for many decades now, Antarctica continues to offer challenges to never-say-die spirit of humans. Every year during summer season of Antarctica, adventurers attempt to negotiate Antarctic challenges in their own styles. Last year only, adventurers got together to organize first of its kind, South Pole Race 2008, to replicate historic race between two legends of Antarctic exploration, Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole. Though there were many records attempted and made, a unique feat of the race was that of a blind man completing the arduous journey of 483 nautical miles across some of the most inhospitable terrain and hostile environment on this earth. Women have been part of such adventures on Antarctica now for many years.
Recently I read the book, Swimming to Antarctica’ given to me by Kush (www.tantrikclimber.blogspot.com). This book is an autobiographical account by Lynne Cox. She is a remarkable athlete with incredible ability to swim long distances in freezing waters. Her accomplishments started at the age of 14, when Lynne swam across the a Channel of 43 km, with a group of teenagers in California, in 12 hours and 36 minutes. At age 15 Lynne swam across the English Channel and shattered the men’s and women’s world records with a time of 9 hours and 57 minutes. When that record was broken, she returned the next year and broke the world record for the English Channel a second time with a time of 9 hours and 36 minutes. She has not looked back since then, going for bigger and bigger adventures and breaking more swimming barriers. 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. At that time people living on the Diomede Islands, only 3.7 km apart, were not permitted to see one another, although many had family members living on the other island. Looks so familiar at our Kashmir or Punjab! Whether her accomplishment eased Cold War tensions or not, as Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev both praised her success.
The last swim in the book, Swimming to Antarctica, gives the book its name when she swims 1.6 km from a ship to the Antarctic shore in 25 minutes in freezing water below zero degrees dodging icebergs. Such a cold water, would send even a hardy person into fatal hypothermia within 5 minutes.
Lynne has been helped in achieving her accomplishments by many people, and she is generous in acknowledging them in the book. I personally think she owes a great deal to her parents who made a crucial decision quite early in life to move to Los Angeles so that their children could get best of facilities and trainers in the sport of indoor and outdoor swimming.
Lynne makes this point very clear at many places in the book: she is not swimming to establish new world records. She swam across the Bering Strait, the Strait of Magellan, or around the Cape Town so that she could contribute to making some difference in the world. Her heroics as well as her magnanimous spirit and the ability to bring people together is simply commendable.
Lynne has put down her autobiography is quite simple and illustrative style giving quite graphically her preparations and ordeal in achieving her numerous feats. It is an awe inspiring book, and not only for the swimmers or adventurers, but for any person who wishes to appreciate the limits of human endurance and challenging spirit.