“…For one moment, just one second, I feel immortal..” These words spoke to me as I trained for, raced, and placed in my first ultra-marathon, the inaugural Clearwater 50K. There is no other way to explain it.
Needless to say, this quote has stayed with me. And when I saw Diana Nyad was participating in the Philadelphia Speaker Series sponsored by Widener University, I jumped on the chance to attend.
Diana was incredible. She is not only a down-to-earth human being, but she is one of the most inspiring athletes.
She was genuinely interested in everyone’s story, and was extremely transparent about telling hers. When you are talking with her she makes you feel like you are the only one that matters.
Did I mention that just 2.5 years ago this woman swam from Cuba to Key West at 64 years-old. (See below for a full recap).
Towards the end of the evening I had a chance to show her the canvas I have with her quote on it. She was so genuinely excited about it!
I came home and immediately purchased her latest memoir, “Find A Way.”
Diana Nyad Inspires the Speakers Series Audience to Chase Dreams
Known for her long-distance swims from the Bahamas to Florida, around Manhattan, and most recently from Cuba to Florida at age 64, Diana Nyad took the Kimmel Center stage on Feb. 8 as part of the Philadelphia Speakers Series. She left the audience with a powerful message: “You are never too old to chase your dreams.”
The author, who was named Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic and became the only American to receive the Cuban Medal of Honor, recounted the most powerful strokes of her life that brought her to the shore of Key West, Florida, and made her the first person to complete the Cuba to Florida swim.
From a young age, Nyad was dedicated to swimming. She had intentions of becoming a champion swimmer, waking up every day at 4:30 a.m. to train. “I knew that in order to get ahead in life, I had to be a fanatic about it,” she explained.
Although Nyad failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, she had no regrets, because she knew that she had given it her all. “I knew I couldn’t have done it even a fingernail better,” she said, which was a mantra from a teammate that stuck with her. It became the basis for her philosophy of life: “Every day, no matter what you are doing, do it so you couldn’t do it even a fingernail better.”
In graduate school, Nyad discovered distance swimming and was “crazy” enough to pursue it. She never gave up, even if it meant swimming for 18 hours and 20 minutes across Lake Ontario at 48 degrees. This was the beginning of a whole new journey for her. In 1978, she made her first attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida.
At age 30, Nyad put her dreams of Cuba on hold and started a career in sports journalism, working for Fox Sports, NPR, and ABC’s Wide World of Sports. For over 30 years, she covered major athletic events from the Super Bowl to Wimbledon. She didn’t swim a stroke.
When she turned 60, Nyad asked herself, “Are you a person you can admire?” She realized that she still had the dream of completing the 110-mile swim.
“The Cuba to Florida swim is the Mount Everest of the ocean,” she said. “You couldn’t find a more difficult passageway. It’s not just the distance, but it’s due north, which means if you miss it, there isn’t anything for a while.”
She explained each grueling detail of what it would take to accomplish this swim. “The current of the Gulf Stream pulls east, which means every time you stop, you float off course. Then, there is the battle of fighting off hypothermia and seasickness.”
During one of her attempts, she survived a box jellyfish sting. “I shouldn’t have lived through the night,” she said. “There is a 95 percent fatality rate if you are stung.”
It was during her fifth attempt when Nyad did the unimaginable and completed the swim in 53 hours. “The world declared it impossible,” she said.
She’ll never forget the moment when her coach pointed out the lights ahead. “I thought it was the sun coming up,” Nyad said. “But it was the coast of Key West.”
Fifteen hours later, Nyad and her team arrived ashore. “We made history together,” she said. It was the first time the American and Cuban flags hung together since 1959.
Learn more about Nyad in her memoir, “Find a Way: One Wild and Precious Life,” released in 2015.