(Instead of Barbie.) Here’s my suggestion: Lynne Cox. (Diana Nyad would be another good choice.)
An offline acquaintance of mine recently recommended a book by Lynne Cox, Swimming To Antarctica. I haven’t read it, but I found a couple of good articles about Cox and her cold-water swims online. She also has her own website. Her background page lists many swims where she was either the first person to swim a route, or she broke both the women’s and men’s record. Her photo page shows a baby-boomer-aged, smallfat-sized woman with light brown hair past her shoulders, sometimes tucked up in a swim cap.
According to CBS News, it should not even be possible for Cox to do the cold-water swims she’s done:
The swim [in 40-degree water from Alaska to the Soviet Union] also fascinated scientists. Based on all they knew, Cox should be dead after that swim.
Professor Bill Keatinge of the University of London, a pioneer in the study of hypothermia, brought Cox to London for experiments in his lab.
“We were able to confirm that she can maintain stable body temperature with her head out of the water and in water temperatures as low as 44 Fahrenheit,” he said. “We’ve got one other person that we know can do that. He was an Icelander who swam ashore from an overturned boat.”
Anyone else would immediately feel the pain like an electric shock, their muscles would flail and the heartbeat would stop in minutes.
“The whole beating of the heart goes completely adrift,” says Keatinge. “In technical terms, ventricular fibrillation. Then, you’re dead in a matter of minutes.”
Keatinge thinks Cox has somehow trained her body to keep most of her blood at her body’s core and away from the skin where it’s exposed to the cold. The blood stays warmer. But there is something else — call it her natural insulation.
“She’s got an extremely even fat layer going right down the limbs and it’s an ideal setup,” he says.
Cox herself thinks this is the key to her success: “If you look at the marine mammals in Antarctica, the whales, the walruses, the seals all have body fat to stay warm. Their blubber is very dense whereas mine will be more like a cotton sweater. But I’m not going to be in as long as they are.”
More on Barbie and Sports Illustrated: