Diana Nyad: Portrait of Perseverance

Posted on September 3, 2013

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At age 64, Diana Nyad became the first swimmer ever to conquer the Florida Strait*.

Swimming 112 nautical miles from Cuba to Florida through jellyfish- and shark-infested waters.  Oh, come on.  You’ve tried this four times already and failed every time.  Storms, jellyfish stings, dehydration, exhaustion.  If you couldn’t do this on your first attempt when you were in your prime, whatever makes you think you can do it now, at age 64??  Hey, there’s no shame in it.  No one else has managed the Florida Strait either*, and you have other athletic accomplishments to look back on.  You swam around Manhattan Island.  You swam from the Bahamas to Florida.  You were a world-class distance swimmer in your day, but [ahem] that was in the 1970s.  Come on, rest on your laurels a little.  Relax.  At your age, you should be thinking of retirement, right?

Wrong!  Diana Nyad has proven all of those negative thoughts and stereotypes wrong, wrong, wrong!  Yesterday, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage or flippers. During the swim, she also broke the world record for open-ocean distance swimming (by a whopping 35 miles!).  Well, there’s a resounding slap in the face of all those naysayers who think that 64-year-old women should be shopping for rocking chairs and knitting needles!  You go, Diana!

Diana Nyad sets out from Havana, as seen in this shot from CNN video.

Diana Nyad sets out from Havana, as seen in this shot from CNN video.

Check out her team’s blog which chronicled the trip.  There are all the challenges: jellyfish stings, nausea, the threat of storms, cold, long hours, more than two days of exertion with no rest, no sleep.  And there are all the highlights:  breaking the open-ocean distance record during the swim, the glow of Key West in the sky on the second night, brilliant sunrises, a cruise ship making way for the swimmer, Diana’s speech of thanks to her support team just two miles off of Key West, a flotilla of boats spontaneously forming around her in the home stretch.  For those observing her progress via the Internet, Nyad’s team posted Google Map updates of her position.  I confess, my excitement mounted as I watched her team location approaching the beaches of Key West.

Nyad's team used Google Maps to track her progress.  This is an exciting shot showing the homestretch!

Nyad’s team used Google Maps to track her progress. This is an exciting shot showing the homestretch!

Finally, gloriously, after more than two solid days of swimming in the open ocean, 35 years after her first failed attempt, on this, her fifth attempt, Diana Nyad set her feet on the sands of Smathers Beach as onlookers cheered.

Nyad walks ashore at Smathers Beach, Key West, in this image from ITV News.

Nyad walks ashore at Smathers Beach, Key West, in this image from ITV News.

What a portrait of perseverance!  Not only on this particular swim of 2013, but for the fact that she conquered it after having failed in previous attempts.  As she set out from Havana this time, she said, “My adrenaline is pumping very hard, which means in one half I’m excited. I did all the training. The body is ready. My mind is ready. On the other hand, I admit I’m scared.”  Two days later, she proved that age, fear, and previous failures do not limit us.  Her words, as published by ABC News:

“I have three messages. One is we should never ever give up. Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams. And three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

*Two people have swum the Florida Strait with the aid of flippers and a shark cage, but because that achievement does not meet the rules of the Channel Swimming Association, the Strait was still considered unconquered.

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