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.
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.”