Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Goddess of Swimming

I think I'm in love with Diana Nyad. Even her name is beautiful, and she is an amazing woman. The 62 year old long distance swimmer is currently making her third attempt to swim the Florida Straits from Cuba to Florida, a journey of 112 miles, after aborting her last attempt in August because of an 11-hour asthma attack and an intensely painful shoulder injury. Her first attempt was in 1978 at age 28, but she claims to be in the best shape of her life now.

The swim was made successfully by Australian Susan Maroney at age 22 in 1997. However, she did it in a protective shark cage while Diana Nyad is trying to become the first person to make the swim without one. Instead, she is relying on special equipment that surrounds her with an electric current imperceptible to humans but strong enough to keep most sharks at bay. Kayakers are also paddling alongside to gently prod away any that make it through. There are also hundreds of jellyfish species in those waters, some of which have already stung Ms. Nyad early in her swim.

She blamed the asthma attack on an allergic reaction to pain medication she took for the shoulder injury, but she is confident she can achieve the record which has been her lifelong goal. She said the asthma had her flailing through the water "like a dying, floundering fish."

"The asthma took me down, but ironically enough, that 29-hour swim was like a very, very expensive training swim," she said.

This time, her 30-person team has injections for asthma just in case. Nyad was subdued but determined as she greased up ahead of the swim.

"Not that I was ever cocky, but having been through this now and been so deeply and emotionally disappointed, I don't want to take anything for granted," she said.

In an interview several weeks after the August attempt, she told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta she was still strong, and was not ruling out another attempt.

"I am capable of swimming from Cuba to Florida, and I will give it up, if I just can't make it," she said, "but I didn't prove that to myself in this particular swim."

To attempt this swim again, Nyad said she would need good weather, calm waves and warm water, though she was willing to swim in less optimal conditions than she once thought she needed.

"I used to have almost a paranoia of waiting for the (ocean) surface to be (completely) flat," she told Gupta. "(During the August attempt) we were out in some slappy waves, and it wasn't fun, and you can't glide across the surface, but I can make it."

She will not be allowed to touch the boat for the length of the crossing if the record is to count, nor can her team physically aid her other than to pass her food, medicine, a new swimsuit and so on. She will try to sustain her energy by eating peanut butter sandwiches and pasta, and she sings Beatles, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin songs in her head to keep her mind occupied, especially during nighttime.

"I never ever — it's the cardinal rule — I never look up because it's very depressing to see the horizon with no lights, no nothing. And I never ask my trainer here in the boat what time it is or, 'Are we almost there yet?'" Nyad said. "They're going to tell me when we're about 10 hours away."

If she succeeds, the Los Angeles woman would set a new record for open-water swimming without a shark cage. She already holds the previous record for a 102.5-mile (165-kilometer) swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

Diana Nyad touches my heart because she is not just a superior athlete trying to set a record. She hopes to be an inspiration to others that they can still achieve their dreams at any age. She also wants to help end the bitterness between the United States and Cuba which has persisted for over 50 years. I hope she makes it. I am cheering her on in my heart and hoping that her particular Red Sea parts for her, all the way to her goal. But I also believe that when anyone attempts to do a difficult thing, no matter what the outcome, that person has already succeeded. Diana Nyad proves that the tyranny of age is only in our own minds and that if we overcome massive negative cultural conditioning, we really can accomplish our dreams. She gives me hope, and that is no small thing.


e said...

What a lovely and uplifting post! You're right to say the tyranny of age should not hold us back. I hope you still have dreams to follow.

the walking man said...

Next to Nyad you are the best Susan! You give a lot of us hope too and to have that gift is just as special as being older, in great physical shape and swimming a distance few would dare.

TechnoBabe said...

If Diana Nyad knew you, she would say you give her hope. You are a young and strong woman with lots to accomplish and I hope I am still hearing about your adventures.

Paula said...

I agree with the above posters. You give your own kind of hope. If Nyad succeeds, it will be a tremendous feat, but it is not necessary. You give us hope that we can do as you do--manage to fulfill our responsibilities with grace and love, no matter what life throws at us. That is far more important that swimming.

Pam said...

Diana Nyad and Suzie Maroney are inspiring women, as you are too. You've had your own marathons.
In her personal life Suzie has had many battles. We in Australia only learnt about five years ago that she was born with cerebral palsy.
There is an interesting account with Australian t.v. interviewer Andrew Denton where Susie says of her marathon swim that dining with Fidel Castro was a highlight (he had lettuce in his beard and she couldn't tell him!) as was her twin brother Sean being on the boat all the time during her swim. It broke her heart that Sean was killed in an accident in 2002.
Now Suzie is facing the challenges of raising her children from marriages that have not been successful for her.
Those women have a lot of courage. So do you.

nick said...

Good for her. As you say, she is trying to prove that the tyranny of age is only in our own minds. I'm sure there's some truth in that - the more you attempt, the more you achieve, and assuming you're "over the hill" is very much a mental prejudice. I hope she succeeds this time.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I do, as it happens. I want to be a great writer as well as a person who changes lives for the better. And a good haircut wouldn't hurt either.


I think we all swim unfathomable distances in our lives, just not always in water. And we mostly do it without shark cages to protect us from all who would take away our hopes and dreams.


You said "young." You called me young! Now please excuse me while I click my heels, laughing.


I wish I had your comment embroidered on a sampler to hang on the wall where I could always see it. Thank you.


I googled Susie Maroney while writing this post, so I knew about her Cerebral Palsy. It's extraordinary what some people can overcome! They stand as markers that we, too, can do so much more than most of us attempt.


The very expression "over the hill" grates on me. What hill? I have known middle aged, stodgy people of 28, and others who were still fully engaged with life past 100.

mischief said...

What a fabulous story of strength, persistence, and determination. Reminds me of someone... oh yeah, you. I think she will be successful in her next attempt -- and I have no doubts about you whatsoever. xx

Anonymous said...

I am glad this woman gives you hope. She is certainly awe-inspiring. In her deeds, but also in her words. What a story and I soooooo hope she makes it.

Suffice to say, I think you now are traveling the same sort of unfathomable distance, through shark-infested waters and you do not have an electric current to ward off such dangers.

Hugs to you, Ms Heart.

Anonymous said...

I am heartbroken to read just now that she did not make her goal -- but dammit, what a swim, what a woman!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I learned today that Diana didn't finish her swim because of the mortal danger posed by multiple man o' war stings. But she is still a winner in my book! Me? I'm an attempter. I think the jury is still out on that.


I am heartsick that she didn't finish her swim because it clearly meant so much to her. She's an amazing hero and she has my total admiration and awe. I am definitely baby pool material compared to her.

PeterAtLarge said...

Pesky jellyfish! What a shame!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It is a shame for someone so determined to have her hopes dashed yet again. I so admire her tenacity and her ability to focus through pain and unbelievable physical and emotional adversity.

Brown said...

I too agree that people who bring awareness to such causes with powerful intentions, succeed before ever getting in the water.