The Ocean’s Devotions

An elite swimmer shares how she healed a broken heart and returned to the open water.


Swimming in the Sink by Lynne Cox

Published by Knopf, 240 pages, $25

Boston-born Lynne Cox grew up to become an indomitable swimmer in wild oceans. At 15, she’d swum across the English Channel; at 45, she swam more than a mile in 32-degree water off Antarctica, wetsuit-free. In acts of liquid diplomacy, Cox swam between countries in tension, traversing the Bering Strait to promote peace between the United States and the Soviet Union and later stroking heroically from Argentina to Chile to foster cooperation there.

In previous books and this new memoir, her writing captures both her icy exhilaration in these extraordinary athletic adventures and the spiritual connection with nature her unique ocean-going made possible. But this chronicle focuses on a daunting challenge on dry land. After the deaths of her ailing parents, whom she’d patiently cared for, Cox became the patient, suffering from atrial fibrillation as a result of the appropriately named broken heart syndrome. Treatments ensued; the threat of a possible heart transplant loomed. Swimming, of course, had to be suspended for a time, though she “swam” using the sink as her mini-ocean, moving her arms through ice water to reacclimate to the cold.

Friendships, including one with a doctor who anxiously feared Cox’s death, sustained her. And the energy she’d given to swimming was redirected into the discipline of emotional bravery. An injured firefighter friend, affectionate and philosophical, helped her set new goals. And there’s romance, too. She finds cozy confluence with Steven, a musical man, discovering real synchronicity between their worlds. Cox must have a mystical pen that can write in the water, as she captures its immediacy beautifully.

From Page 45: When I am swimming I feel like a musician discovering nuances in sound, color, and rhythm. My body is the instrument and the ocean is the symphony. I immerse myself in music and hear and feel the ocean’s movements. We create music together. I hear the driving beat of my arms and legs and the song of my breath and bubbles.

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