A Conversation with Diana Nyad

This past week David and I were extremely lucky to get an invited to hear Diana Nyad speak; and what a memorable experience it was!  I walked away with some great mantras and ways to think about life.

In case you’re not familiar with her story, Diana was a competitive swimmer at a young age and went all the way to the Olympic trials for backstroke.  She didn’t make it to the Olympics, but continued to swim and got into marathon (long-distance) swimming.  In the 1970’s she set records circling Manhattan island an swimming from the Bahamas to Florida (102 miles).  She had planned to swim from Cuba to Key West – one of the most dangerous crossings due to sharks and jellyfish – but the weather did not work during her planned attempt.  At age 30, she stopped swimming and did not take a single stroke again until age 60 when she decided she still wanted to achieve her goal of swimming from Cuba to Key West that had alluded her all these years.  She knew it was her swim.  It took Diana FIVE attempts to complete the swim from Cuba to Key West.  When she reached the Florida shores, she had two messages: never give up and that you can do anything at any age!

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{ she was so nice as well! I told her I was doing an ironman, “only a 2.4 mile swim”!}

Now she is 64 and she says she feels like she’s in the prime of her life athletically, which is pretty amazing.  One of my goals is to continue being active well into my 60’s and beyond, so this was a really positive message to me – and she looked absolutely great for her age! 

A couple of her messages:

  • During the Cuba swim, she would be really tired and worn out and wonder if she could keep going, then her team would ask her “Diana, can you do just five more strokes”, so she’d say yes, and do another 5; then she’d look back at the boat and they’d be signaling with their hand “five more”.  Take things one step at a time.
  • Sitting on the couch doesn’t feel that rewarding.  I related to her need to do something difficult and challenging to be able to enjoy the reward of the goal. 
  • Her favorite parts of the swim were the times she could be alone in nature and in awe of the universe. 
  • “Find a way” was her mantra for the 5th attempt to get to Florida.
  • Diana’s main message was to live your life and leave everything on the field, and feel like you did the best you could do for you.  She had a lot of great stories, but a memorable one about her Olympic trials experience, where even though she got sixth place and did not progress, she knew she could not have pushed one one-thousandth of a second more and she didn’t go home disappointed or crying.

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She ended her talk with a Thoreau quote I loved:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

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