Is Diana Nyad Right?

Diana Nyad at TEDMED2011

Diana Nyad at TEDMED2011 (Photo credit: Klick Pharma)

If you’ve been living under a lily pad, you may not know that endurance swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage.

It was her fifth try in 30 years. She did it at age 64. It took her  just under 53 hours to swim 110 miles. The pain from dehydration, sunburn, jellyfish stings and exhaustion was obvious to anyone who saw her stagger onto the beach at the end. But she had enough strength in her soul and power in her voice to tell the cheering crowd, “We should never, ever give up…you’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

Was that the adrenaline talking, or is Diana Nyad right? Do age and pain, along with the everyday minutiae of the real world, eventually stop us all from doing whatever we want? Or can you push through, ramp up and persist past the pain and mundane and reach any goal we set for ourselves?

In the harsh light of reality, sometimes the answer is yes, life shows us a big red stop sign. Severe illness and injury, along with attending to the needs of others, can put a halt to what we want to accomplish. In Nyad’s case, her early hopes for the Olympics were ended by a heart condition called endocarditis. She has spoken of childhood sexual abuse, at the hands of both her stepfather and her swim coach. But her life was not derailed by the illness or the abuse, nor did she give up looking for other challenges in endurance and marathon swimming. And although she says she’s now done with the ocean, she still has other goals: endurance pool swims in New York to raise money for victims of Superstorm Sandy and in Boston for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. All her life, Nyad has shown a stubborn and single-minded attitude, ignoring the naysayers in order to do what she does best ; not only swimming, but writing, motivational speaking, radio and television personality and living openly as a member of the LGBT community.

If Nyad is looking for some company on those pool swims, I’d like to join her. Because I think she’s right. I’ve signed up for my first half-marathon in years (it’s in February, 2014), and I’m looking at a bike race or two, now that I’m riding regularly. The eye surgery went perfectly, and I hope to be back in the pool in a couple of days.

I’m old for this stuff, people tell me. But all my medals and ribbons and awards were won after I turned 50, not before. What keeps me going is the sight of them, all displayed and framed, next to my bed. I see them last thing at night and first thing in the morning. My motivation is to get more of them, crowding the table and wall until you can’t even see them properly. That’s fine with me. I know why they are all there. And I’ll keep competing for more, even though I know it’s really not about the awards, it’s about the rewards.

 

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Filed under Current news, Exercise, Swimming, thought

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