In the wake of Covid-19, we’re living in uncertain times. We’re isolated. We’re worried about our health and the health of those we love. We’re anxious about the future.

For many of us, it’s hard to deal with such profound uncertainty. For open water swimmers, uncertainty is present every time they step into a massive, untamed body of water. Open water swimmers can never be certain about the outcome of a swim. They’re always at the mercy of many elements outside of their control, from waves, to weather, to wildlife, to simply finding the will to keep swimming.

Life isn’t a swimming pool, with lanes to follow and water that’s always heated to a comfortable temperature.

Life is an ocean full of unpredictability and difficulty. But after each swim, we emerge from the water stronger and more capable.

At Swim Guide, we’ve been asking open water swimmers how they deal with uncertainty and sharing their advice about how they’re making it through these turbulent times.

Today, we’re speaking to Lynne Cox

Lynne Cox was the first person to swim the Bering Strait between the United States and the Soviet Union. She’s braved the high altitude of Lake Titicaca and the icy waters of Antarctica. Today, she is an author and public speaker, sharing her experiences and wisdom with others.

Here’s how Lynne Cox deals with uncertainty…

How did I do these incredible swims that no one in the world had ever done before? Incredible amounts of research.

I would find out the currents, the weather, the tides, the fish, the threatening marine life, the non-threatening marine life. I would talk to experts and read. I would learn as much as I could before even getting in the water. Sometimes, the research would take ten or eleven years, like with the Bering Strait.

The Bering Strait. Photo by BreakingTravelNews

What I would do after the research was minimize the risks by finding a crew–having a team around me–that was smart, reliable, that had been in challenging situations, that could help guide me.

I find the best possible people to be my support crew.

A lot of what I do is educating myself and having people around me who are a lot smarter than me. I use them as resources and I let them know that they’re as important to me making the swim as I am.

From that point on, it’s about the swim itself.

In the world now, it’s about having the best support team around you of your family and friends who are knowledgeable and are giving you good information, and not information that’s inaccurate. There’s a lot of information being passed around and you can’t accept any of that at face value.

You sort of have to go back and research what you’re being told and make sure it’s really true.

One of the things that attracts open water swimmers to certain swims is that it may never have been done before, or the person doing the swim may never have done it themselves. They want to take on the challenge and use their mind and their body and their spirit to take on get to the other side.

I think part of it is that you’re exploring your abilities and your capabilities and your limits.

During pool swimming, you pretty much know you’re going to get to the other side. You pretty much know you’re going to touch the wall and flip turn and go back. You know the water will be a certain temperature. You have a line at the bottom of the pool to follow.

But when you do open water swims, the swim is not already determined for you. It’s mind and body-challenging and exciting. When things aren’t working, you have to see what you can do differently to make them work.

That’s also when you turn to your team and say “What’s going on? And how can I change and adjust to be able to continue on?” Sometimes that just means jumping up and getting a hot chocolate and refocusing. Sometimes it means somebody boosting your spirits or someone on shore wishing you well.

Sometimes you just have to float and take a breath and decide you can keep going.

Photo by Adam Heath

Sometimes, it’s even realizing that the situation is not good and you’re not making headway and things aren’t going to get better. It’s accepting that it’s probably better for you to get out of the water and stay healthy and come back and attempt this again another day when conditions are better and you’re more physically or mentally prepared.

One of the hardest things to do is letting go of something because it’s not working at that moment. It’s a fine balance between when to push and continue on and when is it right to pull out and reconsider and come back another day (or decide that it’s really not worth it and you move on to something else).


Find out how other open water swimmers deal with uncertainty by checking out the other articles in this series

Learn how to deal with Covid-19 uncertainty: Go with the flow with open water swimmer Marilyn Bell

Learn how to deal with Covid-19 uncertainty: Just breathe with Eney Jones

Learn how to deal with Covid-19 uncertainty: Strengthen your coping muscles with Liz Fry

Learn how to deal with Covid-19 uncertainty: Give back with Loren King

More Articles Like This

Swim Guide
is supported by
* The RBC Foundation

Swim Guide shares the best information we have at the moment you ask for it. Always obey signs at the beach or advisories from official government agencies. Stay alert and check for other swimming hazards such as dangerous currents and tides. Please report your pollution concerns so Affiliates can help keep other beach-goers safe.

Swim Guide, "Swim Drink Fish icons," and associated trademarks are owned by SWIM DRINK FISH CANADA.| See Legal.