Sherr, Lynn, Newsweek
Byline: Lynn Sherr
You are where you swim.
We're mesmerized by pools: those big blue boxes in London where pristine water fairly screams "Everybody in!" But beyond the Olympics, swimming pools (essentially giant bathtubs) are being challenged by wide open spaces. And swimmers are debating whether they prefer to bounce back and forth between walls or swim, say, from continent to continent. I've done both, and I'm here to moderate the case.
Historically, it wasn't an issue. While swimming pools accommodated ancient Roman emperors, they disappeared for centuries, and didn't come into popular use until the 1800s, in Europe. Until then, the only waters were natural: the lakes, oceans, rivers, and streams that humans shared with, well, everything else. Today we have choices--from the more than 10 million pools dotting backyards and sports centers across the country to the rolling surf of our spectacular coasts.
Pools glisten in the sun; they illuminate a dreary yard; they play with lines and light as the wavy reflections of sun in water animate straight walls. Pools are pure, capturing nature's force for our benefit. We think differently about water when it's accessible. It's a surprise, a safe haven in the most improbable places. A fantasy of liquid islands.
Still, they're a round trip to nowhere, over and over again. "I don't like pools," says Simon Murie, a tall, slender, Australian-born Briton who organizes open-water swim vacations. "In an indoor pool, every day is the same. It's like McDonald's--the same meal wherever you are. But go to a local cafe, and every meal will be different. That's the beauty of open-water swimming: each day is different."
That's why so many swimmers today are testing themselves in the seven seas and beyond. It's why some 900 people have swum the chilly, egg-beater waters of the English Channel since British sea captain Matthew Webb first breast-stroked across in 1875. It's why intrepid cold-water marathoner Lynne Cox has braved such bone-freezing byways as the Antarctic Ocean, Lake Baikal, and the Bering Strait. "You are lifted by the waves," she told me. "Everything is always changing, even the light on the water. The different kinds of froth. And at night, the phosphorous sparks fly." And it's why Diana Nyad, 62, will try again this summer to swim from Havana to Key West, a 103-mile passage whose toxic jellyfish nearly killed her last year. …