Diana Nyad: From Havana to Florida in 53 hours on scrambled eggs and pasta

Diana Nyad

Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

I’m just in awe of Diana Nyad today.

She completed a two-day, 110-mile swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, a distance she has been trying to conquer since 1978.

She swam from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979, but couldn’t stop thinking about that stretch of water that only one person, a then-22-year-old named Susie Maroney in 1997, has successfully crossed.

The Australian used a shark cage, but Nyad wanted to do it without support apparatus. After three failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, Nyad said she would try for a fifth and final time.

She started swimming on Saturday and only took breaks every 40 minutes to eat scrambled eggs and pasta.  From what I understand, she did not sleep or even get out of the water.

She swam all the way to the end, even when she could have walked.

Clearly exhausted, she emphatically delivered three messages:

1) We should never ever give up.
2) You never are too old to chase your dreams.
3) Swimming looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team.

It’s just amazing to think of what this woman’s life has been like, especially in these past few years as she revived a dream that might have gathered a little dust but was still worth pursuing.

I’ve written before about my love of sport — softball and volleyball, especially; the Olympics, generally; major league and college ball, not so much — but not endurance.

That’s what’s so incredible about Nyad’s journey, not just this weekend, but every day of every year that has led her here.

Turns out, she hadn’t swam in 30 years, “not a stroke,” she explains during her excellent TED talk. but having just turned 60 and fearing a slow decline toward death, she decided to pursue an extreme dream, “something that would make me be my best self.”

At 64 and the height of her career as an author, athlete and inspirational speaker, Diana seems to be doing pretty good as this being-your-best-self stuff.

(Speaking of athletes of all ages, Nyad’s news today reminded me of this NPR story from a few weeks ago about a senior women’s softball team, whose oldest member is 71. “When you find a game you love, you play it as long as you can,” Gloria Hillard, the knowing reporter, explains.)

And today, she reminded us that even though a goal like this might seem like one woman’s personal ambition, it takes a collective effort to make it happen.

I was particularly moved by this scene from her blog, which team members updated throughout the weekend with posts, photos and even videos:

Forty-nine hours and 40 minutes into the swim with two miles to go as the crow flies, Diana called all five boats together in a circle around her and treaded water. She wanted to tell us something.

Looking around at us as we bobbed on the boats, she said: “I am about to swim my last two miles in the ocean. This is a lifelong dream of mine and I’m very very glad to be with you. Some on the team are the most intimate friends of my life and some of you I’ve just met. But I’ll tell you something, you’re a special group. You pulled through; you are pros and have a great heart. So let’s get going so we can have a whopping party.”

Thank you, all of you, thank you for your generosity.”

It got me thinking: How often do we think beyond the realm of what has already been done? How often do we relish in the act of helping someone else achieve their dream so that it might inspire others? How often do we thank those who feed us scrambled eggs and pasta when our tanks are empty?

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