Diana Nyad swam from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Fla., on the strength of her spirit. At the age of 64 and on her fifth attempt, she knew she would have to.
After staggering ashore Monday, her body spent and her mouth swollen by injuries and salt water, she said, "I have three messages. One is: We should never, ever give up. Two is: You're never too old to chase your dream. Three is: It looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team."
With the mantra "Find a Way," Nyad rhythmically stroked and rocked for 53 hours through the dangerous Florida Straits. On Monday, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the benefit of a shark cage.
A day later, she reflected on the cheers that greeted her arrival at Smathers Beach in Key West. "It wasn't an athletic event," she told ABC-TV. "It was a moment of the human spirit."
Anyone who has struggled and suffered can relate. "If something is important to you, and it looks impossible, and you're up against it, just step back a minute and say, 'Really, do I have the resolve to think of every nth degree to get through this?'" she said. "Most times, we do. People give up too quickly."
Not Nyad. She tried unsuccessfully in 1978 and then, decades later, three more times in 2011 and 2012, but couldn't complete the 110-mile journey. She said she saw her age as an asset, however, because her powers of "concentration and perspective" were greater than when she was a faster swimmer in her twenties.
She was also well-prepared, with a crew of 35 who followed her in boats, swam ahead warding off sharks, fed her, and checked her condition every 30 or so minutes. Nyad wore a full body suit, gloves, booties, and a fitted silicone mask over her face to protect her from the painful, debilitating stings of box jelly fish at night, when the creatures swim to the surface.
Another endurance swimmer made the same trek in 1997, but in a shark cage that protected her from the sea's dominant predator as well as water resistance.
Nyad and her team outsmarted the sharks by surrounding her with an electrical field strong enough to repulse them. Luck was on Nyad's side as well. The sea was calm except for a 90-minute Sunday night squall, which she swam through. Diana Nyad did indeed find a way. And she generously shared it as an encouraging message for all those seeking a will to fight and win.
--The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 4