I had assumed, erroneously, as it turns out, that Lynne had ample corporate sponsorship for these swims.

"In the case of the Bering Strait swim, nobody believed that the Soviets were going to open the border to me and nobody believed that someone could swim in 38-degree water. It's hard to get corporate sponsorship for something like that when even ordinary everyday people don't have a lot of confidence in its happening."

Lynne says that people are always surprised to learn that it often takes several years to organize a swim, aside from the actual training and physical preparation. Much of that time is spent on business and logistics.

"I don't know if you ever read Lindberg's The Spirit of St. Louis, but I think it's one of the best books of all time. Like me, he was hoping that some big American company was going to sponsor him, but it ended up being Ryan Airlines of San Diego along with Lindberg piecing it together with the support of friends."

"When did you make the shift from swimming for yourself and for personal fulfillment to using your swimming to promote ideas to a larger audience?"

"I think the experience that changed everything was when I swam Cook Straits between the north and south islands of New Zealand. There were people from all over the country that supported the swim. They called out to the boat and encouraged me to keep going. Ferry boats changed their courses so that they could come along and raise the American flag and be alongside us. A number of Air New Zealand flights changed course so that they could radio weather information down to us. Realizing that all of this was going on around me as I was struggling to swim across the strait, I came to understand that a swim could be so much more than just an athletic event. They were cheering me on, but they were cheering themselves on as well. As they were helping me, they were seeing the struggle within themselves. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I think they cheered me on because they wanted to be successful themselves by playing a part in what I was doing."

"How did you decide on swimming in the first place?"

"The truth of it is, I was so bad at so many other things. I was awful in tennis. I broke both of my feet in gymnastics, and I broke my elbow thinking that finally I would play basketball and be good at it. I was always dead last in running, and I couldn't do a pull up. As far as being a land athlete, you would never ever want to bet on me."

"When you are in the ocean swimming, do you feel at home there, or do you feel like you are a guest?"

"I feel very, very comfortable in the ocean, but I always realize that I am a guest. I have a respect for the marine animals there. I enjoy being immersed in another world, and yet it's a world that I go to visit. It's not a place that I stay all day long."

I ask Lynne if she has seen the documentary about Timothy Treadwell and his work with grizzly bears in Alaska. "I haven't seen it, but I've heard about it. I've also heard a lot about it from naturalists who think he pushed it way too far."

"Where do you feel the line is between humans and animals?"

"I see all animals as cats. You wait for them to come over to you. Dogs are so different. They want to be with you and see you and walk with you and drive with you. But cats are like, 'Maybe I feel safe enough to have you pet me and to be with you.' If something wants to come over to me, great. If they want to swim with me, that's great too.

"I was really tentative with Grayson because he was 18 feet long and a baby. I wondered what he knew about life -- whether he would push me and not know it was okay. On one level, I had this sense of awe, and thought maybe he would be gentle with me, but on another level, I just didn't know.

"And then when his mother finally came, I didn't get between her and the baby at all. I swam backwards a little bit and she swam over to me. I sensed that she wanted me to touch her, but something swimming toward you that's 45 to 50 feet long can be pretty intimidating. Still, there was that fundamental trust -- that sense that we were two beings in the water and that she was thanking me for helping take care of her child."

Lynne Cox will be reading from Grayson at Warwick's Bookstore in La Jolla on Thursday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Knopf, 2006, $16.95, 160 pages


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