Lynne Cox is a best-selling author and world-renowned open water swimmer who has been setting records since she was a teenager. So when Cox saw a video online of another extreme athlete as she jumped from a helicopter to save a swimmer in a lake, she was fascinated by the skills and courage needed to jump into the water without hesitation. .
And it was all the more fascinating for the resident of Long Beach that this athlete was a dog.
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The black furry Newfoundland is one of the brave members of the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, or Italian School of Rescue Dogs, which works alongside the Italian Coast Guard to rescue swimmers.
“I really wanted to know how these dogs were trained, how they became elite athletes,” said Cox, who in addition to being a world-class extreme swimmer is also an accomplished author who has written six other books, including “Swimming to Antarctica”. “, a story that tells of his experience swimming in the freezing waters and “Grayson”, about a baby gray whale that got lost near Seal Beach. And now she’s written about these canine athletes in her latest book, “Tales of Al: The Water Rescue Dog.”
“It was out of curiosity, at first, and then I realized there was a story emerging from that experience,” said Cox, who spent about two weeks at the Italian school getting to know the dogs. . In the book, she focuses on a brown Newfoundland named Al who was just beginning her training at the elite school when Cox visited her about 10 years ago.
But while Al’s journey to becoming a rescue dog is the central thread of the story, the book also forms part of the memoir as Cox writes about her own early experiences in the water when she started her career. swimmer at Belmont Pool in Long Beach. It is also a story of travel and gastronomy since she writes about the Italian cuisine she ate there and the book is also an inspiring guide for other athletes.
“It’s more than a story about Al and the school; it’s more about other dogs and swimming and having courage and overcoming obstacles,” she said.
Cox, who was born in Boston, grew up in Los Alamitos and now lives in Long Beach. She first rose to prominence as an extreme open water swimmer when in 1972, aged 15, she set the world record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel from England to France in less than 10 hours.
She set several other open water records throughout her career, but is perhaps best known for crossing the Bering Strait in 1987 in 38 degree water from Alaska to the Soviet Union.
For her latest book, she decided to focus on Al after meeting her the first day she arrived in Italy to visit the school.
“She was two years old and she was sniffing me while wagging her tail. She was really excited to see me,” Cox said.
Cox was able to jump in the water and help train the dogs as well, sometimes playing the victim for the dogs to be rescued. But while Al was a perfectly friendly dog, she wasn’t the ideal rescue dog at the start of her training.
“I don’t want to tell the whole story, but Al wasn’t the fastest learner, according to everyone around her, and she didn’t seem to understand what she was being asked to do. And she seemed to be very easily distracted,” Cox said.
But Al’s unique journey to becoming an elite rescue dog offered an important lesson to other athletes that Cox wanted to pass on in his book.
“Watching this process of school members working with her, I realized they had solved a great mystery and discovered new ways to approach Al that were successful,” she said.
“It was about creativity and thinking differently and I admired that. Instead of thinking everyone should train the same, I think not everyone is the same and people should train differently,” she said. “Because of that, they can reach higher levels.”
And while the book doesn’t inspire readers to dive into freezing waters, she thinks Al’s story is something people can relate to in many ways.
“I just want people to feel happy and be inspired by it,” she said.
If you are going to:
What: Lynne Cox Book Tour
When: 7 p.m. May 25
Where: Village Well Books, 9900 Culver Blvd., Culver City