Diana Nyad has been on my Heroine List for many years. I still remember how, in 1978, when she was 28 years old, she tried a long-distance swim, inside a shark cage, from Cuba to Key West, Florida. She was forced to stop because of rough weather--but she went on to hold the record for the world's longest ocean swim. I was just out of college, just starting to swim with my own sharks in New York's media world. Her courage and determination made a big impression on me.
The Nyad is going to try it again. Cuba to Key West: 103 miles across jellyfish and shark infested waters. No cage. Just shark zappers. Sixty straight hours in the water. No sleep.
And another thing: Nyad is now 61 years old.
Lizette Alvarez' story about Nyad in the New York Times is beautiful--as is the picture by Nicole Bengiveno. I found myself choking up as I read about Nyad's upcoming adventure--with pride for her, for all the ways that a woman wants to push against the limits of what is possible--and with anxiety. This is a treacherous swim. But Nyad says she feels stronger than she ever has in her life. Her metronomic stroke is not as fast as it used to be--with 54 strokes per minute, she clocks in at 1.5 miles per hour these days--but she is tougher.
I read the news with a bittersweet realization that all the years of listening to my friends and family worry about my swimming alone in the ocean have finally gotten to me, and I've cut way down on my long swims. I don't even go in when there isn't a lifeguard.
As of this moment, I'm done with the fear. I'm almost embarrassed at how I've let myself get so nervous and cautious. Having a parasite all winter depleted my strength, but it is time to get serious about building back my endurance. Bike rides to the farmstand aren't going to do it. Nyad's adventure has inspired me to get back in the swim. I want my Blue Sky Brain back: anything is possible. As I made the vow to myself to plunge in again, a cloud, low on the horizon, glowed as if lit from within. Fear is a terrible parasite. It chews you up inside. It keeps you from doing the things that might actually make your life better. As Nyad said about her motivation for this insanely daring swim: "I'd like to prove to the other 60 year olds that it is never too late to start your dreams."
Nyad talks about how she used to swim out of anger--outstroking a memory of abuse. Now, she swims in awe of the world around her. What a gorgeous idea. I could do a mile or two on bubbles of hope and love like that.