“A record-setting long-distance swimmer, Diana Nyad writes and thinks deeply about motivation.” – TED.com
Diana Nyad – Journalist, swimmer
It’s the fifth time I stand on this shore – the Cuban shore, looking out at that distant horizon, believing again, that I’m going to make it all the way across that vast, dangerous wilderness of an ocean. Not only have I tried four times, but the greatest swimmers in the world have been trying since 1950, and it’s still never been done.
The team is proud of our four attempts. It’s an expedition of some 30 people. Bonnie is my best friend and head handler, who somehow summons will, that last drop of will within me, when I think it’s gone, after many, many hours and days out there.
The shark experts are the best in the world — large predators below. The box jellyfish, the deadliest venom in all of the ocean, is in these waters, and I have come close to dying from them on a previous attempt. The conditions themselves, besides the sheer distance of over 100 miles in the open ocean — the currents and whirling eddies and the Gulf Stream itself, the most unpredictable of all of the planet Earth.
And by the way, it’s amusing to me that journalists and people before these attempts often ask me, “Well, are you going to go with any boats or any people or anything?”
And I’m thinking, what are they imagining that I’ll just sort of do some celestial navigation, and carry a bowie knife in my mouth, and I’ll hunt fish and skin them alive and eat them, and maybe drag a desalinization plant behind me for fresh water.
Yes, I have a team.
And the team is expert, and the team is courageous, and brimming with innovation and scientific discovery, as is true with any major expedition on the planet.
And we’ve been on a journey. And the debate has raged, hasn’t it, since the Greeks, of isn’t it what it’s all about? Isn’t life about the journey, not really the destination? And here we’ve been on this journey, and the truth is, it’s been thrilling. We haven’t reached that other shore, and still our sense of pride and commitment, unwavering commitment.
When I turned 60, the dream was still alive from having tried this in my 20s, and dreamed it and imagined it. The most famous body of water on the Earth today, I imagine, Cuba to Florida. And it was deep. It was deep in my soul. And when I turned 60, it wasn’t so much about the athletic accomplishment, it wasn’t the ego of “I want to be the first.” That’s always there and it’s undeniable.
But it was deeper. It was, how much life is there left? Let’s face it, we’re all on a one-way street, aren’t we, and what are we going to do? What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?
And all this past year in training, I had that Teddy Roosevelt quote to paraphrase it, floating around in my brain, and it says, “You go ahead, you go ahead and sit back in your comfortable chair and you be the critic, you be the observer, while the brave one gets in the ring and engages and gets bloody and gets dirty and fails over and over and over again, but yet isn’t afraid and isn’t timid and lives life in a bold way.”
And so of course I want to make it across. It is the goal, and I should be so shallow to say that this year, the destination was even sweeter than the journey.
But the journey itself was worthwhile taking. And at this point, by this summer, everybody — scientists, sports scientists, endurance experts, neurologists, my own team, Bonnie — said it’s impossible. It just simply can’t be done, and Bonnie said to me, “But if you’re going to take the journey, I’m going to see you through to the end of it, so I’ll be there.”
And now we’re there.
And as we’re looking out, kind of a surreal moment before the first stroke, standing on the rocks at Marina Hemingway, the Cuban flag is flying above, all my team’s out in their boats, hands up in the air, “We’re here, we’re here for you,”
Bonnie and I look at each other, and we say, this year, the mantra is — and I’ve been using it in training — find a way. You have a dream and you have obstacles in front of you, as we all do. None of us ever get through this life without heartache, without turmoil, and if you believe and you have faith and you can get knocked down and get back up again and you believe in perseverance as a great human quality, you find your way, and Bonnie grabbed my shoulders, and she said, “Let’s find our way to Florida.”
And we started, and for the next 53 hours, oh, it was an intense, unforgettable life experience. The highs were high, the awe, I’m not a religious person, but I’ll tell you, to be in the azure blue of the Gulf Stream as if, as you’re breathing, you’re looking down miles and miles and miles, to feel the majesty of this blue planet we live on, it’s awe-inspiring.
I have a playlist of about 85 songs, and especially in the middle of the night, and that night, because we use no lights — lights attract jellyfish, lights attract sharks, lights attract baitfish that attract sharks, so we go in the pitch black of the night. You’ve never seen black this black. You can’t see the front of your hand, and the people on the boat, Bonnie and my team on the boat, they just hear the slapping of the arms, and they know where I am, because there’s no visual at all.
And I’m out there kind of tripping out on my little playlist. I’ve got a tight rubber cap, so I don’t hear a thing. I’ve got goggles and I’m turning my head 50 times a minute, and I’m singing –
Imagine there’s no heaven
doo doo doo doo doo
It’s easy if you try
doo doo doo doo doo
And I can sing that song a thousand times in a row.
Now there’s a talent unto itself. And each time I get done with – “Ooh, you may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”.
222. Imagine there’s no heaven And when I get through the end of a thousand of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” I have swum 9 hours and 45 minutes, exactly.