Following is the full transcript of Find a Way author Diana Nyad’s TEDx Talk titled ‘Dare to Dream’ at TEDxBerlin conference.
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Diana Nyad – Marathon swimmer
Yes, you can laugh because the only thing I know how to say in German, I don’t know why, is an eccentric thing, but I say: [German] It’s the only thing I know how to say. So, you’ll see me hanging around at the hotel lobby, I’ll wait all day until it’s the right moment that I can go to the front desk and say: [German] They answer me in a long German phrase, and I don’t understand a word and I say: [German] “Oh, Danke!” And I go off.
But Stephan let me say to you, “Vielen Dank!” It’s in my honor to be invited to be at Berlin TEDx and to listen to all the speakers, Caroline and the rest of you. The lives you are leading are so interesting and inspiring, so, to be among you and, like all of you, to hear the exploits everyday of their lives, it’s a privilege to be with you. Thank you. Yep, thank you.
My father was a Greek Egyptian and he spoke in a very thick accent, which already is entertaining, to live in a home where you don’t understand your parent most of the time. And he believed in fate, like most of the Greeks, he believed in destiny. And he called me over when I was five years old and he had the large Webster’s dictionary open and he said, “Darling, I am waiting for five years till you are ready to tell you this moment. You’re coming here, you’re looking. Your name is in black and white in the dictionary, darling! This is so important, is so proud for me and my family, all my ancestors! You will go to your little school tomorrow, your pre-school and you will ask all of your friends if their name is in the dictionary and they will tell you “no.” You are the only one! And let me tell you, you are listening to me, darling because this is the most important thing I will ever tell you in your life. It says here, in the Greek mythology, my people, these were the nymphs that swam in the lakes and the rivers, and the ocean, the fountain to protect for the Gods. And darling listen now, for you, the modern definition says, “Girl or woman, champion swimmer!” This is your destiny, darling!”
And I stood up right away, I had no idea what a swimmer was but I was proud. And I would walk around with my shoulders very tall and broad because you know the word I heard, was ‘champion’. And my father instilled this. So, a few years go by, and sure enough I am a swimmer. And I start swimming and I have a dream of the Olympic games. And I’m 12 years old now and, it’s a sport of discipline. And you spend, even as a young person, you spend a great deal of time, and focus and energy, very serious toward your goal. And my father, 12 years old I am, he calls me into the bedroom one night and he’s very agitated. And he’s walking around with his hands behind his back, and he says, “OK. First of all, I make very big mistake when I show you this dictionary.” Now, you’re a fanatic. Now, you’re getting up at 4:30 in the morning, every morning, 365 days a year, we are talking Christmas. You don’t know your brother and sister any more. You don’t go to church in the weekend, in Sunday any more. You have given up the piano, for swimming! We don’t know to tell our friends where you are for dinner. You are in some training table crazy thing, we just don’t know what to do.
And I stood up, and I said, “That’s right, dad! That’s right. Nobody gets anywhere, nobody gets ahead in life unless you get out of your comfort zone, unless you dream big, you dream extreme. And me, I’m going to stand one day and bow my head and receive the Olympic Games gold medal. And you know how we’re going to do that, dad? Because I’m so glad we had this little talk. I really am. I’m glad we got together because you don’t understand that when I say, “I’m going to go to bed at night,” I don’t mean me, I mean all of you. All the family is going to go to bed. Do you understand me, dad?”
And he said, “Oh! Not only, I do understand you. I need to tell you that your mother and I, we are very, very afraid of you. And I just really called you in tonight to give you the key to the house and wish you good luck because we cannot live this way anymore.”
So that was my parents’ way of being themselves: a French mother, who also didn’t understand entirely the sports, and the muscles, and the green hair, and the whole thing. But time went by and sure enough, I became a champion swimmer. And there was the sprint swimming. And then for 10 years I entered this world of distance swimming. And the swims are cold, they are long, and the Earth is four-fifths water, and there’s a group of people, just like marathon runners, just like mountain climbers, who travel to these places, from the English Channel to the Straits of Gibraltar, to Argentina and the rivers and the oceans down there. And we swim across these areas, and see who can get there first.
And sure enough, at the end of these 10 years of distance swimming, I decided I wanted to do a kind of egomaniacal last swim before I retired. I was just about to turn 30. I thought it’s time to grow up and to get a job and to move on into the rest of my life. And I decided I wanted to swim 100 miles in the open ocean. And the world record at the time was 58. And as my coach said to me, “Why don’t we do 59? Maybe, round it out to 60. But why we are going to bump it up all the way to 100?”
“No!” I said. I want it to be difficult. I want it to take passion. I want it to take an unwavering commitment to be able to get to the other shore. The other border. And it’s important for me to be a border. And we started to gather the Earth’s nautical charts on the floor of my apartment in Manhattan, throwing out the Antarctic Circle and places that weren’t realistic. And there it was, there’s the border, at least in my country, that’s the most famous border in the world, Cuba. It’s been so long since we have not been able to be friends and to share our cultures and our humor and our lives together. It stretches all the way back to 1959, and it goes on today. And I thought, “That’s the swim I want to do.” I want to swim this famous passage, all the way from Havana to Key West, it’s 103 miles. I had already swam 102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Florida, it’s a long way, took a couple of days.