I had the pleasure recently of attending a talk by the open water swimmer, Lynne Cox. She was on a book tour promoting her latest book, Swimming in the Sink. The talk focused not on her past accomplishments of tackling the formidable open waters including Antarctica, the English Channel, the Cook Straight in New Zealand, the Straight of Magellan in Chile, but rather on her journey to overcome a debilitating illness that left her on the brink of life.
If you are not familiar with Lynne Cox, her contributions to what we know about how the body responds to the coldest of temperatures is unparalleled. She began her open water career as the youngest teenager to complete the Catalina Island Channel in California. Her writing of the feeling of being in open water is so sensual that the reader is pulled into the water alongside her. Thus began her insatiable desire to further challenge herself with longer and colder open water swims.
Perhaps Lynn’s greatest accomplishments was the completion of the open water swim of the Bering Strait in 1987. Leaving the island of Little Diomade, Alaska, swimming in 43-44 degrees (no wetsuit!) and 2 hours later landing in Big Diomade, Russia provided a path for the people of both countries to finally come together after being prohibited via the Cold War. Lynn wanted to make a statement through her swim to bring the two countries together through her swim. Lynn often used her open water swims as vehicles for social change. Another swim for positive change was the Ohio River swim from Cincinatti to Kentucky to bring attention to the issue of water quality.
Following the success of these formidable swims and the physiological achievements , this particular talk focused on Lynne’s struggle to overcome a debilitating heart condition brought about from the stress of caring for and losing both parents as well as her beloved dog in a short span of time. She was finally diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy also known as broken heart syndrome, a relatively rare condition brought about hormonal responses to severe stress and grief. Going from living the life of an elite athlete to finding herself with barely enough energy to walk up a flight of stairs, Lynne had yet another challenge ahead. Her heart was failing.
What I really liked about this book is the unfettered telling of Lynne’s inward journey toward the power of love. Her history of working against all odds to overcome freezing aquatic temperatures served her well as she learned to start from scratch again. As someone who works with people learning to bring activity into their lives, this book can serve as valuable inspiration when facing challenges. She writes, “It’s working with and against the forces of nature and yourself that transforms you. Each time you do something difficult, you find you can do some more. You change. Your capability increases.”
If you find yourself trying to bring physical activity into your life, here are 4 tips to inspire change:
- It doesn’t matter what you do. Just do something. Even a 15 minute walk helps. According to Dr. John Ratey, “exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning.”
- If you believe it, you can achieve it. Dr. Holly Wyatt, co-author of the book, State of Slim, firmly believes in the power of positive thinking. How clear are you in your quest for an active life? Why is it important to you? Keep these reasons in your forethought. They are there to get you over the hump of negative thinking. Remember, anything you do is better than nothing at all. And everything adds up in the big picture.
- Plan for your success. Plan for how you want to exercise. Before work, during lunch, or on the way home from work? Studies suggest that, for exercise, the power of planning is one key factor in success. Begin to see physical activity as an appointment with yourself. Each week, carve out time on your calendar. Don’t forget to set yourself up for success: have your clothes and shoes by your bed, your gym bag packed or your shoes in your car for that walk on the way home from work.
- Go easy on yourself. One thing Lynne writes about is the power of love. When she learned to love herself first, she connected with something larger than the challenge in front of her. Connect why you want to get active; a bigger picture of your life vision and how you see yourself inside it.
In 1988, Lynne had asteroid #37588 named in her honor. For many, she will be a guiding star of overcoming challenge, getting physically active and growing into our best self.