Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons from Diana Nyad

Last year I was obsessed with Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. At over 60 years old, she had not swum in more than 30 years after setting several long-distance swimming records! (If you are unaware of her swimming accomplishments, you need to look her up!)

About this time, I read an interview with Diana. I can't remember where the article came from, but it was very unflattering. It portrayed Diana as a mentally weak, incompetent person who could not do the simplest things to take care of herself.

I was so disappointed! I remembered when she accomplished some of her swimming feats in the 1970s and when I heard about her planned swim from Cuba to Florida I was excited! Here was an athlete in her 60s trying a swim that had never been completed without a shark cage. How was it possible that she could be such a weak person in real life?

This week I discovered that Diana Nyad was a featured speaker on the TED Talks podcast and wondered if she would end up being kooky or seem incompetent.

Her speech focused on her unsuccessful swim attempt from Cuba to Florida last year. She said that the reason for the swim was so she could say she lived her life without regrets. She talked about the preparation and dedication needed and how she handled her 24-hour training swims. I was especially impressed with the many things she had planned to think about when she reached specific milestones. 

Take a minute to understand this. She planned out the specific things she would "think" about during her entire swim, and knew that she would think about Stephen Hawking during the 60th hour. (When I'm training for long-distance walking events, I don't plan to think about anything, and my longest walks were only 5 hours.)

Then came the details about the actual swim attempt. After several hours in the water she was stung by box jelly fish. The pain was excruciating and her medical team did their best to help her recover enough to continue swimming. During this treatment, she stayed in the water. Then, while still in pain, she continued swimming for several more hours even though it was difficult. The next day she was stung again. At that point, she had to be pulled from the water for more intensive medical treatment. Though she went back in the water and was able to continue to swim over night, the stings took their toll and eventually she had to stop. 

She says that she is glad she lived those two years of her life preparing for that swim. When you live each day with that much passion, there is no time to have regrets. And now she wants to live every day for the rest of her life that way. She points out that sometimes you have to accept defeat and you can accept it with grace. But, the ocean is still there and her hope to successfully complete the swim is still alive in her. "I can swim from Cuba to Florida, and I WILL swim from Cuba to Florida," she said.

That is the only swim she is interested in and she is ready.

So, what did I learn from Diana?

It is OK to fail.

Just because your last success was more than 30 years ago does not mean you should not try.

Live every day with passion.

Shoot for what may seem to be impossible.

And, don't believe everything you read.