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Diana Nyad on Pride, Survival and Her Plans at Age 10

1975 New York Times Photo of Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad preparing to swim around Manhattan, Oct. 6, 1975.  (Photo New York Times)

When Diana Nyad walked up onto the beach in Key West on Monday, 110 miles from Havana, where she had begun her swim — achieving a dream she’d been pursuing for 35 years — everybody wanted her to say something profound. What a monumental human being! What a passage! What was it like? She did a staggering job dispensing wisdom, for someone who’d been swimming for 53 hours straight. Still in her swimsuit, she leaned on her best friend’s shoulder, and with a swollen tongue and lips told the world never to write themselves off because of old age or give up on their dreams.

But the finish line of an extreme endurance event is perhaps not the moment of a person’s greatest lucidity. Fortunately for all of us, Diana published a beautiful book in 1978 called “Other Shores,” which I read when I was working on the profile of Nyad that I wrote for the magazine in 2011. In her book, she had this to say about swimming for a 15-hour stretch (less than a third of the time she just spent in the water):

Imagine swimming continually for fifteen hours. Fifteen hours in rough, cold ocean water. Fifteen hours of unconsciously doing the same stroke that you have been doing since you were 10 years old. You can’t hear because of the caps, and you can’t see because of the dark, fogged goggles. You can’t think because the human mind is not geared to focus for any lengthy period of time, so your thoughts drift into delirium, and soon, time is more distorted than ever. As far as you know, you are in the middle of nowhere, and any effort you might produce to stroke again won’t necessarily bring you any closer to your goal, because much of the time you can’t remember what the goal is. It is clear that your ordeal is without end, and there is only one thing you somehow sense — that the choice to abandon the struggle and climb aboard the ship would be to fragment your pride beyond repair. Survival is keeping one’s dignity intact.

In “Other Shores,” Nyad also reprints an essay she wrote as a fifth grader in Fort Lauderdale, when she was 10.

WHAT I WILL DO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE

My mother says that her father lived to be 79. Her mother is still living. And my father’s parents are still living. It would probably be a good guess that I will live to 80 years. Which means I have 70 years left to go.

I want to see all the countries of the world and learn all the languages. I want to have thousands of friends, and I want all my friends to be different. I want to play six instruments. I want to be the best in the world at two things. I want to be a great athlete and I want to be a great surgeon.

I need to practice very hard every day. I need to sleep as little as possible. I need to read at least one major book every week. And I need to remember that my 70 years are going to go by too quickly.

Medical schools better watch out.


by ELIZABETH WEIL

The New York Times; Thursday, September 12, 2013

 

Bernell Hooker

Bernell Hooker is the Founder and CEO of Images of Us (IOU) Sports; a non-profit organization that empowers girls and women through education and sports. "Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success." - Mariah Burton Nelson
 

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