“I don’t wear striped bathing suits because the way the stripe flashes in the water might lure sharks, and you don’t want to get eaten. I don’t wear black in the water either because I wouldn’t want a killer whale or a 1,000-pound leopard seal to mistake me for a penguin or a seal and have me for lunch,” says Cox, sitting down to a salmon lunch at Odeon in TriBeCa. “And just to be on the safe side, even though I don’t know whether those predators are color blind or not, I won’t wear red in case it reminds them of blood.” Talk about killer fashion faux pas.
Last week, Cox kicked off her 12-city cross-country book tour for “Swimming to Antarctica” (Knopf), her gripping memoir of groundbreaking solo odysseys across the Earth’s most remote and treacherous waterways, culminating in the South Pole swim in 2002. And the option offers from Hollywood are already starting to pour in. No wonder: Narrated in sparse language that lets her death-defying adventures speak for themselves, the book chronicles Cox’s evolution from a child swimming in cold-water lakes in Maine through her teenage discovery of her unique long-distance swimming talent to her epic crossing of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia (and that at the end of the Cold War in 1987).
With a superhuman main character possessed of the ability to persevere no matter the obstacles, the story has all the elements of a Shackleton endurance blockbuster. Cox’s fans already include authors Caroline Alexander and Oliver Sacks, as well as fellow swimmers Ronald Reagan (“the President had been a lifeguard on Santa Monica beach,” she says, “so we talked like jocks”) and Pope John Paul II (“The Pope grew up swimming in Poland and he told me his favorite places to swim in Italy, which is how I ended up crossing Lake Como.”)