What You Can Learn From Diana Nyad: Never Give Up.

I have added a name to my rather short ‘favorites’ list of fitness icons. It’s not that I don’t follow people in the fitness industry like Jillian Michaels and Kelly Coffey Meyer.  But I only have three people that I am semi-obsessed with meaning that I faithfully follow them on Facebook, watch for their tweets and anxiously wait to see what there next venture is going to be.  They are Tony Horton, Cathe Friendrich and Chalene Johnson.

I now have a new fitness icon to add to the list. Diana Nyad. The 62 year old swimmer that is the first person to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Key West, Florida without a shark tank.

It isn’t the physical feat of making the swim that is so inspiring – not that that in itself isn’t incredible.  It’s her amazing spirit and incredible tenacity that fascinates and inspires me.


Flickr photo by Cuba Gallery

Not An Easy Swim

It took Diana 52 hours and 54 minutes to swim from Cuba to Key West.  During the swim she vomited constantly, making it nearly impossible to stay hydrated.  She was sun burned, endured jelly fish stings, and had unbearably swollen lips from the salt water.  Yet she kept going.  How?

At a news conference on Tuesday she revealed some of the tricks that she uses to keep swimming such as counting her strokes in English, German, Spanish and French and singing songs to herself.  She says there’s a song list of 85 tunes in her brain. Neil Young is her favorite.

But for most of us there are no songs that we could sing in our head, or any language that we could count strokes in that would keep us swimming through salty, churning ocean waves for 110 miles while vomiting, getting bit by jelly fish, and suffering from dehydration and extreme exhaustion.

Inspiration From Diana Nyad

After reaching the shore at Smathers Beach in Key West, Diana was surrounded by news photographers and fans that wanted to know how she did it.  Here are some of her responses along with quotes from the new programs she was a guest on the following day:

  • On CBS This Morning “…. All of us suffer heartache. All of us suffer difficulties in our lives. And if you say to yourself ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through.”
  • Upon reaching Smathers Beach Diana had three things to tell her onlookers: “One is, we should never ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dreams. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”
  • Remarking on her motivation to keep going:   “I am stunned, at age 61, at how fast it all flies by. My mom just died. We blink and another decade passes. I don’t want to reach the end of my life and regret not having given my days everything in me to make them worthwhile.”
  • “Never, ever give up. And find a way. … And my age, they’re looking at me as a baby boomer, saying life is not over at this age by any means. So I’m more of, shall we say, a human spirit story than I am a sports story.”
  • In a Today Show interview: “You can dream, you can be vital, and you can be in your prime.  I may not look it right now, but you catch me on a good day, I’m in my prime.” (check out Diana here and I’m sure you will agree that she is in her prime.)
  • “You’re never too old to live your dreams.”
  • From PBS News Hour – “The thing about aging is, it’s true that the clock seems to be ticking faster as you get older. It isn’t, but it seems to be. Time seems to be running out. And I wanted to swim this endeavor not to just be the athletic record. I wanted it to be a lesson for my life that says, be fully engaged.

Never Give Up

Diana had attempted the swim four times without success prior to the September 2013 swim. Once, in August of 2011, she was unable to complete the swim because of shoulder pain and winds that blew her miles off course.

In September of 2011 she attempted the Cuba to Florida swim but was defeated by box jellyfish and Portuguese man of war stings.  In August of 2012 her swim ended before she reached her goal again due to bad jelly fish stings and a lightning storm.

The final attempt landed her on the shore of Key West, Florida on September 2, 2013 at 1:14 p.m.  Her web site simply says, “She freaking made it.”

What can you and I learn from Diana?

Never, ever give up on your dreams.

“I think that a lot of people in our country have gotten depressed, pinned in, pinned down with living lives they don’t want. I do write all the time about — you tell me what your dreams are. What are you chasing? It’s not impossible. Name it.” –Diana Nyad (CNN news article)

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  1. Nyad was making her fourth attempt to swim across the Straits of Florida. The full distance from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, is 103 miles.
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