Diana Nyad: Find a way
City: Fort Lauderdale (Los Angeles)
Quote: “It’s not too late. You can still do it.”
“During that 110 mile swim from Havana to Key West, it was crucial that I kept my mind active. I had a music playlist in my head. Top billing went to the Beatles ‘Ticket to Ride.’ I ‘rewound’ that song over and over during the 52 hour 54 minute swim. Laura Nyro’s “Sweet Blindness” and Fine Young Cannibals “She Drives me Crazy” also got lots of mind play. Toss in some James Taylor and Joe Cocker and you have a peek into how I amused myself.
Five times I failed at swimming from Havana to Key West. In each one of those tries I was brimming with conviction just like I was on this try. There was no other ocean crossing that would move me to train like this or dream like this again.
The dream started when I was a little girl growing up in Fort Lauderdale. I was standing with my mom where Las Olas Boulevard meets the beach. She pointed out into the ocean and said, ‘Cuba is so close you could almost swim there.’ How I wish I could have told her that I did.
I had that lifelong passion to swim from Cuba to the United States. I also had great respect for people who had survived impossible situations. Those were two major things that kept me going.
During my swim I had jellyfish stings, seasickness and vomiting, my mouth’s interior tissues were raw, the extra drag from the protective jellyfish gear was slowing me down, the salt was making me swell up and the saltwater stung my skin as it washed over my nasty lacerations. I wanted to be the first person to do this swim without a shark cage and I never lost sight of that goal.
At 24 hours into the swim, my mind was losing it’s crispness. For a while I was sure that I saw the Taj Mahal in the Florida Straits. My crew of kayakers, divers, navigators, jellyfish experts, medical team, meteorologists and other support members helped me focus again. Sometimes I counted to 100 over and over in English then Spanish then French. The left arm would take a stroke and then the right; hundreds of thousands of times.
A moment I will never forget during the swim is when one of the crew members said, ‘Diana, look toward the horizon. Do you see?’ she said from the boat.
I saw what I was certain was the first hint of the sunrise and thought that soon I will be swimming in daylight and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays.
‘It’s better than the sun,’ she said, ‘Those are the lights of Key West.’
For 35 years I have thought about seeing those lights and refused to lose faith that one day I would really make it all the way across. That was September 3, 2013. I swam on my back and started to cry.
What was I going to say to the other dreamers when I came ashore at Smathers Beach in Key West? How did I want to influence others? I wanted everyone to know that I thought this:
When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of my AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late, I can still live my dreams.
I did my dream in the water. My challenge now is to live that way out of the water.”