As far back as I can remember, I have been more at home in water than on land. My father taught me to swim at age 3, and I’ve been an enthusiast ever since. While most of my aquatic adventures have been relatively tame, a few have been remarkable. I’ve swum with piranhas in the Amazon, sharks and penguins in the Galápagos, schools of tropical fish off Papua New Guinea, an octopus at the Great Barrier Reef, and sea lions off the coast of Mexico.
I’ve swum in a glacier-fed lake in Canada, a frigid river in Alaska and a hot spring in the Antarctic. And for more than two dozen blissful summers, I swam twice a day from Minnesota to Wisconsin and back, challenging the current of the scenic St. Croix River. Even some of my pool swims have been unusual, including one in an outdoor (heated) pool in Toronto, snow landing on my arms, and another in a square pool, 20 feet by 20 feet, in the lobby of a St. Louis hotel where I did “laps” (really circles) under the watchful eye of a lifeguard.
But however many of these tales I can recall, I’m no match for a fellow journalist, Lynn Sherr, author of a new book, “Swim: Why We Love the Water.” Ms. Sherr celebrates the culture, history and physical and mental rewards of this ancient sport, second only to walking as the nation’s most popular recreational activity.
Among Ms. Sherr’s eclectic collection of watery adventures was a four-mile swim at age 69 across the storied Hellespont (now called the Dardanelles), the channel dividing Europe and Asia Minor. She earned a medal for finishing in 1 hour 26 minutes 16 seconds.
“Swimming is my salvation,” Ms. Sherr writes. “Swimming stretches my body beyond earthly limits, helping to soothe every ache and caress every muscle. But it is also an inward journey, a time of quiet contemplation, when, encased in an element at once hostile and familiar, I find myself at peace, able — and eager — to flex my mind, imagine new possibilities, to work things out without the startling interruptions of human voice or modern life. The silence is stunning.”