I’ve been meaning to write to y’all about Diana Nyad. As I’m sure many of you know, Nyad fulfilled a lifelong dream and became the first woman to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. One hundred and ten freakin’ miles kids! The swim took 52 Hours 54 Minutes 18.6 Seconds. (Any of you who have ever competed in an endurance event know why I’ve included this detail in such exactitude…) This is an amazing feat for any athlete. Oh and did I mention that Diana Nyad was 64 years old when she did this? Wowza!
I think the fact that Nyad completed this swim is deeply inspirational. But I think the thing that I found most moving about the whole thing is that she completed this on her fifth attempt. Yup. Five times Nyad assembled a team, got in her swimsuit, called the media and started swimming. Four times Nyad was pictured in the media being pulled from the boat or sporting welts from potentially fatal jellyfish stings as in the picture below.
And then, at age 64, Diana Nyad got back in the water and tried again. The fifth time was the charm! I think there’s a lot we can learn from Diana, and I wanted to share a few of those lessons here with you:
1. You don’t have to look like a supermodel to be a super athlete: As you can see from the picture above, Nyad is strong and powerful and unbelievably fit. But she doesn’t look like she’s ready to hit a runway any time soon. She even seems to be sporting a little hello/goodbye arm action up there. But she’s not worrying about that. She’s not demanding to be photoshopped. Even after her successful attempt, she looked like hell. That’s what happens after you swim for over two days in the open sea. You look like hell. She doesn’t seem overly worried about it.
2. Winning Athletes Build Winning Teams: Diana did not do this thing alone. She had a team of 35 people working with her during her successful attempt including kayak paddlers who kept watch for sharks and even a jellyfish expert who scooped jellyfish out of her way as she swam. She didn’t go this alone and she expressed deep gratitude for all the people who helped her.
3. Treat Failure as a Learning Experience: Diane didn’t simply try the same thing five times. She learned from each of her record attempts and made adjustments. In particular, when jellyfish thwarted one of her attempts, she had a special jellyfish mask designed to help her avoid that particular problem. Even that caused problems on her latest swim, causing her to drink a lot of seawater and risk dehydration from vomiting.
4. You Can’t Control Mother Nature: One of the things that caused serious problems for Diana in the past was the lightning storm that ended at least one of her record attempts. By the same token, Diana says that during this last, successful attempt, the gulf stream behaved in a way that was very favorable for her. You can’t know exactly what the weather is going to do. Nature cannot be controlled but must always be respected.
5. Even Super Athletes Face Embarrassment: Five times Diana told the media she was headed for Florida. Four times she didn’t make it. Four times her name was paired with photos of her being dragged from a boat, falling short of her goal. Four times the caption said that she failed. I have a hard time imagining how much grit it takes to try again and how much guts it takes to call the media for the fifth time, at age 64 and say, “yeah, but this time, I’m gonna make it!” That is some serious, serious courage.
6. Sometimes You Gotta get out of The Water so you can Swim Another Day: Four times, Diana had to make the decision to get out of the water and stop trying. Four times, she had to accept that in order to avoid permanent damage to her body and live to try again she had to stop. On one of her attempts she had to stop after swimming for over 40 hours. Yes it’s painful to stop and admit temporary defeat. But the most important thing is to live to try again another day.
7. Successful Athletes Ignore the Nay-Sayers: I’m sure there were many people both close to Diana as well as complete strangers who told Diana she was crazy. In fact some accounts suggest that friends and family begged Diana to give up this attempt. And while it’s extremely important to consult experts on whether it’s okay to go forward, to get cleared by your doctors, to talk with the anti-jellyfish mask people, you don’t have to listen to everybody who’s got an opinion on your body or what you’re trying to do.
Lest you think that these rules only apply to ultra-endurance athletes, I can say that I have used each of these lessons in a much more humble way in my own athletic endeavors. I only completed a marathon after the third attempt. When the training for earlier marathons led to pain and cortisone shots and stress fractures, I took time off and healed completely. I learned from each try and adjusted before trying again. I ignored lots of people who said I would never make it. I enlisted the help of some truly amazing people to get across the finish line. And when I crossed that finish line, I looked like poop warmed over. It wasn’t pretty. But I did it. And each time I told everybody in the world I was gonna do a marathon, and then had to tell them that I was taking some time off to heal but would do a marathon next year, I was embarrassed. But I got over it. The third time I tried I told everybody. I solicited donations for the Arthritis Foundation. I took the risk of being embarrassed again. But I have to tell you, crossing the finish line was worth all the embarrassment I ever felt.
At this point, I’d like to offer one more lesson Diana Nyad has to offer us:
You’re Never Too Old for Fitness! And those of you in the Bay Area will get a unique opportunity to show this to the world on September 18. Learn the menopause mambo and then come on out to dance a Hot Flash Mob for menopause awareness. Show the world that women of all ages can shake their collective groove things!
The Fat Chick