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.


c said...

You know? other 60 year olds do not need DN telling them how to live their lives.

I am (again) of two minds about this story (yes, I read the NYT's column)
1. how amazing that a 60 something is able to do such a swim,


2. How dare she? She has already swam 102 miles, holding the record. Why attempt 103? while being ready to have her "team" kill any shark that might foolishly approach her?

(of course this poor shark will be in his natural habitat! but never mind that!)

Sorry. I am not so impressed that I can overlook the killing of animals for one more selfish human.

She can go swim 103 miles wherever she does not endanger any creature that happens to live under water.

pve design said...

I lost a dear friend (53) to Cancer and she swam enough miles to swim from here to an eternity. Her strength and tenacity inspired and connected many. Nyad is inspiring.
I say live fearlessly and be brave. Life is too short.

Judith Ross said...

Be brave but not reckless. Perhaps you could at least let someone know when you are going out and then let them know you are back.

Sorry, but I'm a worrier. I am also a swimmer, but I use a pool. I know its not like being outside in the water, but I have become addicted to that level of exercise.

Swimming drains away any anger and frustration I may be feeling. And I have worked out many a thorny writing problem while doing those laps.

Bruce Barone said...

"In awe of the world around her;"

how inspiring!!!

Dominique said...

She isn't KILLING sharks. She is keeping them from killing her--the zappers are to confuse their signals. Whoa, c. "How DARE she?" What The Sam Hill?

Other 60 years old don't NEED anyone to tell them anything--if you want to take it that way. But it is lovely to watch people who have a message for the world. I think people who are competitive simply have to break records. It is part of the way they are wired. It certainly doesn't make me angry. In fact, as I said, it inspires me.

And yes, I agree, brave, not reckless. I'm sure I'll stay near lifeguards, etc. But I'm going back in!

Bruce Barone said...

You can "like" her on Facebook :)

c said...

How dare she, because she is being extremely ego-centric. She could swim the same 103 miles where she would not be endangering another living creature.

Maybe I read too much between the lines, but her 'team' will be ready to jump in should the shield fail. The shield, designed to confuse shark's signals (and isn't that enough bad interference?), is not foolproof. and I'm pretty certain "jumping in" is not merely a diversionary tactic.

By all means, do go back in! My post was in no way critical of your own pursuit. You will stay within eyesight of lifeguards! I just don't understand DN's need to endanger herself or marine creatures in the pursuit of more glory.

Like I said, she can go swim wherever she wants so long as she does not create a situation where other lives are at stake.

Sorry! I simply disagree.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

So inspiring.
Enjoy your swim, Dominique!

Elizabeth said...

Oh, thank you for telling us about this and the article in the Times. I have a Chinese doctor and dear friend who is in her late fifties and recently placed first in her age group in the Los Angeles Marathon. She will love this story!

Cristina said...

I could stare at your gorgeous orangey pink big cloud for hours.

Michele said...

Might I put another word to you, to substitute for fear? How about caution?
I have not read the article, and don't care to. I don't really need anyone out there giving me incentive to be strong, have courage, just do it. This is too much Oprah. I have faced my own issues and survived, that is enough.
I digress....is she a mother? Does she have a family that relies on her? Children seeking guidance, elderly parents, friends who need her? Maybe, maybe not. To go into the sea and swim without an other pair of eyes to me is foolhardy and reckless. Stopping doing so is wise and cautious. Go back to swimming, but don't do it alone. Nyad isn't.

M Stewart said...

My first thought was Wow! My second thought was . . . there's a lot of technological artifice here, and for what? I'd be more impressed at someone just getting in the water at one end of a much more modest distance and simply swimming somewhere less impressive, without the extensive support crew.

Are there records for no-support-boat swims? Good luck with the book, Dominique--Maco

SweetRetreat said...

Sorry, this story leaves me cold. I'm a swimmer, in my 60s, and swim only within sight of others, not for myself, but my family. My mother swam all her life, and tended to take chances and the mere memory of this selfishness makes me angry.

Swimming a great length in shark-infested waters, with others armed with sharp repellent electric shields, and four divers with spears! Confusing, or spearing, innocent sharks for personal pursuit is not bravery.

Remember your family when you swim alone. Swimming is a wonderful sport, but one can too easily forget the distance covered.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Well, for all it's worth?....

Spoiled Me hadn't thought of Nyad in years, it seems, until I read this posting and (during the last 24 hours) encountered the media- blitz surrounding this newlyproposed gig of hers.

I suddenly realized "Oh...SHE'S the one I enjoyed so much when she did the 'Business of Sports' segments on NPR's program 'Marketplace'."

My own circumstances and temperment have always been such that I've never had to bother myself very much with business/money/marketplaces or, for that matter, sports/games (except for a relatively brief, ten-year period when I had to coach soccer in Boreding-skoolz). Nonetheless, Nyad remains one of the most engaging, informed, and truly FUNNY commentators I've ever heard on my favorite (oddly enough) NPR program.

And somewhat in response to an earlier poster, who voiced concern that Nyad might be swimming "alone"?.....

My first consideration was "Good Lord....a 'Nice Girl" never has been allowed to drink or smoke 'alone'....now, she can't even swim alone?"

Besides... my impression, after hearing this interview today, is that Nyad doesn't seem to do so much as eat her breakfast without an entourage as fulsome as Brittany Spears's on-tour "support network". At least Nyad DOES do her own swimming.

That said?...I do wonder about this aversion to swimming without a shark-cage (I heard her interviewed this morning, and she said that she didn't want to be "the person with an asterisk beside the name"...i.e. "*used a shark cage").

As long as you don't hang onto the danged thing like Kate Winslet at the climax of "Titanic", why would the issue matter? You still did the actual swimming....does it not "count" if you didn't also risk having your leg chomped off (sorry, but I'm from the generation of East Tennesse 12 year olds whose first, rivetting introduction to ANYTHING-to-do-with-the-sea was "Jaws")?

Isn't that sort of like thinking that a quarterback's world-records don't "count" unless he performed without pads and a helmet?

Oh, well....I think she's an extremely fine radio-commentator, and I just realized I missed her voice.

thank you for the posting.

Incidentally?...my 74 year old, East Tennessee mother just telephoned this morning and, among about 10,000 other topics, mentioned that she was deluged with tomatoes and zucchini. The refrigerator's already FULL with unprepped tomatoes and zucchini...so, at 7 in the evening, she had a brilliant stroke of genius and simply poured four big sacks of newly-picked vegetables into the enormous swimming pool that my father had installed (against her wishes) ten years ago and on top of what used to be a rose garden. She'll "deal" with them later. Her exact words were "That damn thing of your Father's is finally of some USE".

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry

scribbler50 said...

Wow, a lot of sour grapes in this "whine", Jezzuzzz.

Like Dominique noted in her comment, people like this are wired differently and pushing themselves to the limit and beyond defines them. Some might call them egocentric, I'd rather call them eccentric as in exceptional. These are the people who climb Mount Everest and climb into NASA space ships, don't try to put them in a box 'cause they don't fit. And if what Ms. Nyad does (whether she sinks or swims in the process), not only gives her personal satisfaction but sends out the message of staring down fear then "Brava"! Especially for those of a certain age who see fear rear its ugly head every day in new ways.

Though I'm not dismissing the animal cruelty angle which I'm sure they will try to avoid at all costs, for a woman this age to attempt this feat is awesome. Or as stated, "Inspiring!"

david terry said...

thank you very much for that fine posting, "scribbler 50".

that's all.

david terry

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the DN is not letting a potential laundry list of "what ifs" stop her from this pursuit.

mary said...

Hi Dominique---you are 100% spot-on regarding fear. If the only gift we give to our children and others is the belief that fear and other negative self-talk can be and will be overcome, it will be a great one. Kudos to Nyad. I never could swim that well (I've always been uncoordinated or worse) but my brain at 60 is better and more creative and freer than ever. But it does take a lot of self-determination to continue to stretch oneself and grow every single day. Thanks for the platform.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

I have always been fascinated by her first and last names: one, the sportiest goddess on Olympus (though as far as I know she only hunted on land); the other, a water nymph. And both are anagrams of each other.

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

Being 49 y/o and wondering what's next...it's inspiring to see DN's story as an example that it's never too late to continue a long-held dream, whether you agree with shark cages or zappers or not...it's wonderful to see someone pursuing life on their own terms.

profA said...

Life is short. Though it has never been a dream of mine to swim in shark infested waters (I did not come with the let's engage in risky biznis gene) I'm glad Ms. Nyad is still taking the plunge while Life allows and that she can still arouse the support and enthusiasm she needs to tackle this somewhat (in my opinion) goofy exercise. I look forward to reading about her journey and DO hope that it does not come at too big a price to her or our sea dwelling companions.

Blessings all~
Linda B.

Laura said...

My understanding about the shark cage thing is that it is an "easier" swim with the cage. It somehow makes the swim faster is the way I interpreted it. maybe it's like drafting when cyclists are racing? Not sure. So, maybe DN feels like this is "cheating" herself. I think it is simply amazing with or without a cage. Gosh, I can't imagine staying awake in a boat floating on the water for 60 hours - never mind swimming all that time.

**A note to anyone reading these comments - on her website there is a place where $$ can be donated or t-shirts bought to support this attempt.

Lines of Beauty said...

Dominique I am so happy to read your post on Diana. I too have been a fan of hers since the 70s when she swam from my home town to Toronto. I am a competitive swimmer myself,a sprinter, although only 50 years old. Last weekend at a masters swim meet right before my race anxiety started to overcome me-as it usually does-and I wanted to run into the locker room. Instead I thought of Diana. I thought if she can swim 103 miles at the age of 61 without a shark cage I can swim my fastest time. And guess what? I did. It goes to show how much one person's challenge can effect so many people.

I can't wait until Diana gets into those Cuban waters and heads for Key West. I don't know if I will be able to sleep until she gets there.

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

Wonderful story on an amzing woman!! We all must learn to get over our fears and go back into the ocean...So to speak. "Now, she swims in awe of the world around her." One word: Inspiring!

William said...

Has anyone take the time to consider the jellyfish?? Me thinks not. Just how will these shark zappers - neoprene rods that emit electrical waves - affect the lives of these beautiful and mesmerizing creatures?? Clearly the enviornmental impact of one woman's selfish and egocentric folly reaches far and wide and I think I've had about enough!! And don't even get me started about the disruption caused by a swimmer on well-formed patches of marine algae!! WAKE UP PEOPLE - THIS IS JUST WRONG!! SHE MUST BE STOPPED!!

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

Ummm, William? Whoa there big boy, you sound a bit overwrought. Me thinks the marine algae and jellyfish will not be that disturbed by one single woman swimming through the vast Atlantic ocean for about 60 hours.

If I were you, I'd worry more about shipping traffic traveling those waters every day leaving a trail of oil.

Bevfred said...

Hi! I'm 61 years old and a cancer survivor. I've read your books,
enjoyed your blog and sensed your depression and increasing trepidation.
Remember.... a fear is a wish.

So let it go and have some fun.

Deborah A said...

Last nite when I read this post something made me uncomfortable about it. I couldn't formulate it until now.
I wouldn't call DN a heroine, to me it just doesn't fit. As you said, she is pursuing a dream or a goal because she is "wired" that way.
To me a heroine is something different, maybe someone who is savings people life's or doing something for mankind, and this simply doesn't fit the bill.
Lately I have personally met a lot of unsung heroes. Like the couple who live down the street and have given up their retirement years to take care of their grandchildren. Or the couple from church who have given up security and privacy to help both of their children who have lost their jobs and are either in danger of losing their homes or already lost them.
Talk to anyone about this subject and they know someone who is sacrificing to help not only their families but mankind in general.
One doesn't have to swim in shark invested waters to show other 60 year old people that its not too late to start living for Petes Sake! Try telling that to grandparents that are chasing around 2 and 4 year old kids.
And yes, fear is a terrible thing to have...we all fight it from time to time. Actually, fear and caution is an innate sense that keeps us alive sometimes.
Your relatives and friends are only thinking of your safety, and may I add very wisely at that!
I guess I'm saying we should be careful who we label as heroines or heroes, sometimes it just doesn't fit the bill.

Warren said...

You go girl. You won't have to worry about SUVs or pickups. You are stronger than I; my mind games begin when I am out there in blue water. I FEEL safer on a bike, though I would probably BE a lot safer in the ocean.

Tru Dillon said...

DT I will drop by for some of those toms and zuks.

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