by Lori Ruhlman
Skaneateles High School tenth grader Haley Buchholz was preparing to “Escape from the Judge” over Labor Day when she learned some exciting news: record-breaking long distance swimmer Lynne Cox would soon be visiting Skaneateles.
“My mom thought I was crazy,” Buchholz said about how excited she got when she read the news in her race packet before jumping into the lake for her mile swim to shore. Buchholz, an avid reader and a member of the girls’ swim team, has long dreamed of meeting swimmer and author Lynne Cox.
She could barely believe it when she learned Cox would come to Skaneateles the week of October 7-14. In addition to many other activities and events, Cox will speak to students in Skaneateles Schools during the day on October 11, and to the entire community at 7 p.m. October 11 in the high school auditorium.
Buchholz read “Swimming to Antarctica” by Lynne Cox when she was in seventh grade. She and a group of other seventh grade girls were so inspired by Cox’s motivation, they told Middle School Librarian Sharon O’Connell they would love to have Cox visit Skaneateles. At that time, the idea seemed a little out of reach, but O’Connell kept it in mind.
Now, three years later, the dream has come true, thanks to a long list of organizations and donors including: Skaneateles Education Foundation and the district PTCs, the Rotary, the YMCA, Endurance Monster, Creekside Books, SkanRaces, AAUW, and AXA Advisors, Dr. Rob Kiltz & CNY Fertility Center.
Her book shares stories about her incredible swimming achievements – including a swim across the Bering Strait that helped open relations between the US and Soviet Union in 1987. She first burst into the world spotlight when she swam across the English Channel at age 15 in 1972, shattering the men’s and women’s world records with a time of nine hours and 57 minutes. She has been swimming ever since.
“It was such an amazing story,” Buchholz said of the book. “It is astounding anyone could do that. As a swimmer, I realize how far that is … how hard it is.” Buchholz said she was intrigued with “the way she sets herself up so perfectly to achieve whatever she sets her mind to.” Tenth grader Mackenzie McGraw was also in that book group, and ended up writing a biography on Lynne Cox when she was in eighth grade. “I really appreciated her personal strength and her determination. She would look at things that seemed impossible, and say she would do them – and she did.”
McGraw said she has remembered Cox’s perseverance. “I’ve used that mentality and applied it to my track experience,” she said, adding that she recommends the book to anyone. “If you want to achieve a goal, you can train and work hard. It can apply to trying out for a play or a team or a club. The book could be the inspiration or spark you need to do it.” Meg Conan, Skaneateles High School graduate of 2005 and Williams College grad of 2009, had a similar reaction to Cox’s book “Swimming to Antarctica.” Conan heard Cox speak when she was a student at Williams, and had been an admirer ever since. Imagine her surprise when she was working Creekside Books and Coffee this summer and local parent Geralyn Huba approached her and asked her if she’d ever read “Swimming to Antarctica.” Conan told Huba she had met Cox at Williams College – and the rest is history. Conan joined a committee of people (including Middle School Librarian Sharon O’Connell and and Huba) working to make the visit a success.Conan is excited about the book’s power to inspire.
Conan worked with Creekside owner Erika Davis to create the book store’s first ever Community Read.
Creekside has been promoting the book and the community read, and has found there is a lot of interest, Davis said. There will be a book discussion on the book at 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 30, at Creekside. “Our community read seeks to compel friends, family, and neighbors to share their experience while reading the same book, to engage in community-wide dialogue and to foster a greater sense of community by bringing people together through the journey of literature. Our goal is to promote page-turning togetherness,” the Creekside website reports. It goes on to give this description: “ Swimming to Antarctica is the autobiography of the long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox. She begins her story at age nine, when she first thought of swimming the English Channel. With the aid of supportive parents and excellent coaches, Cox reaches that goal at age fifteen, setting a time record in the process. Her extraordinary determination and speed propel her to an amazing career, setting more records for distance swims and accomplishing more firsts in open-ocean swimming. The book is an account of her swims in some of the most treacherous and coldest waters in the world, culminating in her 2003 swim just off of Antarctica. One of the most symbolic swims in the story is Cox’s crossing of the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia in 1987. Cox fought for eleven years to get permission from the Soviet Union to land on its shores. Her tale of the political intrigue surrounding that swim is a history lesson in the tension and suspicion that marked the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. To quote Oliver Sacks, “Lynne Cox writes about swimming the way that Saint Exupery wrote about flying and one sees how swimming, like flying can stretch the wings of the spirit. Lynne is an extraordinary achiever, but it is her enthusiasm and her warmth, along with her respect for others, that come through above all in her writing… [this book] is thrilling, modest, vivid and lyrical, an inspiring account of a life of aspiration and adventure.”