On her daily, early morning swim off the California coast, 17-year-old Lynne Cox experiences fear for the first time. Energy fills the water and Cox herself as she is surrounded by a giant school of grunion being hunted by a small school of albacore tuna that try to sweep the young girl out of their way. Just as she is starting to get worried that she’ll get hit in the head by one of the forty-pound tuna, she realizes there is something very large in the water below her, something big enough to be a white shark.
“The water began shaking harder than before and I was being churned up and down as if I was swimming through a giant washing machine. The water shifted, and I was riding on the top of a massive bubble. It was moving directly up from below, putting out a high-energy vibration. I felt like there was a spaceship moving right below me. I had never felt anything this big in the water before.”
As Cox approached the pier, her friend Steve is jumping up and down, waving to get her attention, and shouting. “You can’t swim to shore…That’s a baby whale following you. He’s been swimming with you for the last mile. If you swim into shore, he’ll follow you…The weight of his body on the beach will collapse his lungs and he will die.” The 55°F water has already chilled her body during her hour-long training swim, but Cox must keep swimming with the three to four-month-old gray whale if she wants to help him reunite with his mother and pod. Grayson is the true story of how one teenage girl helps a baby whale find its mother in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
From this synopsis, most readers would expect Grayson to be fodder for the latest tear-jerker “movie of the week” or an inspirational kids’ movie. Grayson, however, is a memoir rather than fiction and shares a young woman’s dedication to helping a young calf reunite with his mother. Cox stays in the water with Grayson for hours, diving to extreme depths when she believes she’s lost him and swimming out far beyond her comfort zone to an oil-rig, where the whale pod was last spotted.
Cox writes eloquently about the experience, sharing her fears and her desire to give up, as well as the motivation she received from the Coast Guard staff, her friend Steve, and Grayson himself. Her descriptions of the ocean and her experiences of swimming with schools of fish, a playful pod of dolphins, and finally Grayson’s mother, are evocative - so real that readers are able to feel the fish brush up against their legs.
Cox’s experience is motivational and, if she periodically ventures into verbiage that falls in the “self-help” realm, readers will excuse her, as the magic found in this small book easily makes up for a few lapses. What stands out most in Grayson is Cox’s deep love for the ocean and her gift to readers is her ability to share an experience few will ever have on their own.