Diana Nyad: Courage Over The Long Haul

Diana Nyad: Courage Over The Long Haul

Update, September 2, 2013: On her fifth attempt to swim Cuba to Florida, Diana did it! I originally published this in honor of her fourth attempt.

For ten years, from 1969 to 1979, Diana Nyad (b. 1949) was the greatest long distance swimmer in the world.

In 1978, she attempted to swim 100 miles from Cuba to Florida. She failed. Strong currents and bad weather kept her from her goal after 41 hours 49 minutes in the water.

But in 1979, she stroked the 102.5 mile route from Bimini to Florida without a shark cage. She broke other world records, including a 50-year-old one for circling Manhattan Island, setting the new time of 7 hrs 57 min.

Yet that 1978 failure haunted her. In January 2010, Diana decided to attempt the Cuba swim again. She hadn’t swum a stroke, not one, for 31 years.

Swimmer’s burnout gripped me to the point that I could have sworn I would never, ever swim a lap again in my life. But approaching 60 last year threw me into the existential angst of wondering what I had done with my life.

On August 7, 2011, after 20 months of intense training, Diana entered the water in Havana. After 28 hours, she abandoned her quest due to ocean swells, shoulder pain, and asthma.

Diana tried again in September 2011. This time the highly-venomous box jellyfish foiled her attempt — and almost killed her. Twice stung, she described the pain as being “dipped in boiling hot oil.”

Diana announced three months ago that she’ll attempt the Cuba to Florida swim again this summer!

We are far from irrelevant at 60. We’re now emotionally mature, brimming with wisdom and calm, still physically strong. This should be the prime of our lives. Training for this swim has filled me with the heartening, empowering conviction that it’s never too late to chase your dream.

Will the fourth time be a charm for Diana? I’m rooting for her and will post news about her progress on my Facebook page. (Update August 21, 2012: Diana was just pulled out of the water.)

To me, she’s a resounding success because she achieved her goal “to not suffer regrets anymore…when you live with that kind of passion, there’s no time for regrets…I want to live every day of the rest of my life that way, swim or no swim.”

And she asks, “How have you gotten over the big disappointments of your life, because we’ve all had them?”

If you have fifteen minutes, check out this TED Talk below where she describes that harrowing box jellyfish encounter and how she’s found grace in “defeat.” 

25 Responses

  1. Amy
    | Reply

    Oh my goodness, Debra, what good timing for me. I just turned 60 yesterday, and spent most of today partly feeling sorry for myself, and partly asking, what now??? I don’t have an answer yet, but it’s nice to know that you and Diana, and others like us, are out there! Takes away some of the loneliness of this journey called life.
    Thank you for the wonderful site!

    • Debra Eve
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      Hi Amy, so glad you enjoyed it. I just sent you an email, since you’re the winner of last post’s drawing. And I chose your name yesterday. How cool is that? Happy birthday!

  2. Sheila Seabrook
    | Reply

    Debra, thank you for such an inspiring post. This is such a great lesson and reminds me that the only limitations are the ones we make for ourselves.

    • Debra Eve
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      So true, Sheila. Even more amazing that she didn’t swim for 30 years. I have a few talents I gave up in youth for various reasons and want to take up again now — there’s my impetus.

  3. florence fois
    | Reply

    You have done it again, Debra … another great story of courage and determination. The real success is not whether she gets to make that swim, but that no matter what the odds she will not quit 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Florence. She’s so amazing. I hope she makes it this summer, but she’s already won as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Marcia
    | Reply

    Oh, how I love Diana Nyad! I did a post on her after last year’s swim. I posted her TED video, too. Heartrending. I had the opportunity to talk with her several times and found her to be strong, yet vulnerable and so appreciative of the support she’s received. I’m looking forward to her next big swim and pray she makes it unharmed this time. Thanks for bringing her to us again, Debra!

    • Debra Eve
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      How exciting you’ve met her, Marcia! She does come across as completely humble and genuine. I almost wrote about her last summer too, but knew I wanted to include her in my next book, so decided to wait. That story about the jelly fish is just harrowing. I’m off to read your post about her.

  5. Cathy | Treatment Talk
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,

    Great story! What an inspirational women. Certainly she reminds us that we are never too old fulfill our dreams. I’ve not heard of Diana Nyad before, but will check out her TED video. I hope that her next attempt is a success. Thanks for sharing!

    • Debra Eve
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      Happy to introduce Diana to someone new, Cathy! She is one of those amazing individuals, a true role model of what we can do when we set our mind to it.

  6. Kourtney Heintz
    | Reply

    This is one of the most inspiring posts because she never stopped trying. Despite all the obstacles. Wow. What a strong woman she is!

    • Debra Eve
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      I don’t think you could get me in the water with sharks and jellyfish for anything, Kourtney! But it shows the power of a very personal goal. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    Debra, oh wow, I remember Diana Nyad in the ’70s and her defeat. Isn’t it funny how we remember failures, not conquests. Well, her successes may not have been reported as widely either. And since I live on the other side of the continent, I may not of heard about them. You never fail to amaze me Debra. I think it’s awesome that you find these great examples of people who never give up, even when they’ve aged. Gives me the encouragement to keep going. I wish Diana all the best. I hope she doesn’t run into more jellyfish on the way. Those suckers are nasty. Thank you Debra! 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, Karen! I got stung by a baby jellyfish off Malibu once. It was horrible and my foot turned black and blue. Can’t even imagine what Diana went through. I’m really rooting for her this time.

  8. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,
    I remember this lady and her feats. Age 60 maybe the new 40? anyway that’s how I am approaching it… as I approach “it”. May take up running again, there’s a few challenges yet to be met. Thankyou.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, David. Diana sure makes 60 look like the new 40!

  9. Elle,
    This is so inspiring. It gives all hope that aging is not the end! I like to say I’m getting better and wiser – not older. lol

    • Debra Eve
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      That’s the best way to look at it, Angela!

  10. Diana
    | Reply

    I appreciate this post. People shouldn’t think of aging as a bad thing. Nothing should stop you from doing what it is you want to do. As for failing, I’d like to use this quote: “Past failures are guideposts to success.” Thanks again for the post.

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, Diana. It’s always such a joy one of my sheroes drops by. We’ll all be rooting for you on this end. Another one of my favorites, from Truman Capote, “Failure is the condiment that give success it’s flavor.” Good luck!

  11. Mike Schulenberg
    | Reply

    I’d heard about this woman here and there but didn’t know what her name was until now. What a great post about an amazing person. Very inspiring 🙂

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Mike. Truly shows that “never too late” is never a cliche!

  12. Debra Kristi
    | Reply

    In my book, she’s already won by not giving up. I hope she succeeds though. I know that would mean the world to her. And what an accomplishment it would be! Great inspiration, Debra! Thanks!

    • Debra Eve
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      I agree, Debra! Even trying counts in my book. At 63, the kind of physical shape she regained to attempt this is inspiration enough.

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