Saturday, September 24, 2011
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.