When Diana Nyad arrived on the shore of Key West after 53 hours of grueling swimming from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, in September 2013, she not only set a world record, becoming the first person to swim the shark- and jellyfish-infested waters between Cuba and Florida with no cage for protection — she also succeeded in fulfilling a dream she first chased at age 28 and at long-last achieved when she was 64.
Her book “Find A Way: The Inspiring Story of One Woman’s Pursuit of a Lifelong Dream,” is now out in paperback.Village Books and Fairhaven Runners & Walkers will host her at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, when she passes through Bellingham with her EverWalk Team on their walk from White Rock, B.C. to Seattle. Nyad has been a prominent sports broadcaster and journalist, filing compelling stories for National Public Radio, ABC’s “Wild World of Sports,” and other media. She is a national fitness icon, has written three other books, is a talented linguist, and is one of today’s most inspiring and engaging public speakers.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct an email interview with her while she’s on tour. I’m including my questions and her responses in their entirety.
Margaret: Diana, after reading “Find a Way” and watching your videos on your website, http://diananyad.com, I am convinced that anyone who reads and hears your story will indeed go onward, summon what is within, and walk with faith that they can live their dreams. Tell, me does “a fingernail faster” still inspire you? (Note: you’ll have to read the book to find out what that means.) How can that relate to one’s daily life?
Diana: The underlying raison d’etre of the Cuba Swim was to spark my life, to go back to living life to the nth degree, as I had promised myself way back in my twenties.
So, yes, the grueling long hours of training for the swim and the four epic attempts demanded that spirit of true grit. But what I wanted for myself, my team, the world at large, was to witness someone acting out a deep resolve, leaving no stone unturned.
Someone unafraid to fail because chasing big dreams leads to profound personal discovery. I wanted to walk away from that beautiful dream, once triumph was ours, and continue to live out all my days with that same daily proof that the power of the human spirit is within all of us, no matter if we’re seeking to beat cancer or overcome a personal tragedy or chase a seemingly impossible dream.
I believe in engagement. None of us succeed at everything we try. But if we take care of ourselves, if we find awe at this planet we inhabit, if we are inspired by these precious lives we are grateful to lead, the worst crime we can commit is dropping out. The people I admire most are not famous. They’re not wealthy. They’re people who get up every day and engage full tilt with their families, their communities, the world’s problems, their own potential.
M: You built an amazing amount of courage within yourself, but how does a person find a dedicated team of support that stays positive, not as an incredible athlete, but as someone who has to overcome disappointment and heartbreak?
D: Leadership comes with authenticity. I wasn’t afraid to show my team my fears, my vulnerabilities, within my strength. They trusted me. They also felt compassion for me and wanted to rise up and show their best stuff when I needed them most. The quality that serves us most in life is tenacity. Yes, to do well in most areas we need talent. And we need timing/luck. And we need people around us to give us the best chance of success. But, as the big names of business and sports and the military and science have all declared, the core value of living a positive life is persistence.
You get knocked down. We all do. You suffer heartache. We all do. We allow ourselves to feel deep disappointment. And then we get back up. We get knocked down again. We get up again. A team will follow that person who demonstrates tenacity in spades. When I uttered the words “Never Ever Give Up” on the Key West beach that September 2, 2013, the fans there to greet me were weeping. Not crying. They were weeping. They weren’t sports fans, nor swimming fans. They saw a person who refused to give up, a team that was inspired by her tenacity over the long years and suffering that went into the quest. And those fans wanted to feel that tenacity for their own lives, their own dreams. My Cuba Swim teammates write me now, five years later, telling me that they are better people, that they now also refuse to quit on their own dreams, because of the spirit I displayed throughout the journey.
M: How did your emotional courage help you speak out against sexual abuse? Why is it important to tell your story?
D: I don’t know if it was emotional courage that helped me speak out. Honestly, I wish I had spoken out right then, in the moment. But I was silenced. I wasn’t courageous. I was terrified. And humiliated. And terribly naive and confused. I was a kid and it took me to age 21 to share the horror of it. Even then, it wasn’t a matter of courage, my speaking up. It was rage. I was angry to my bones, to have been humiliated that way, to have been pinned down and silenced, to have my youth changed forever. to be separated from my teammates, have my self-esteem assaulted, my body image shredded.
Sexual abuse occurs at an epidemic rate in our country. These assaults cross socio-economic lines and happen in egregious numbers through all our urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods. I simply cannot remain silent about my own history. If my story can bring even one other person the strength to speak her story, and find her healing, work through her rage, I must speak up. The more of us who do speak, we have a chance to change our social and even legal parameters. The next generations will hopefully no longer be under siege.
M: What is EverWalk?
D:I used to say, while training for and attempting several times the Cuba crossing, that I felt I was swimming over the curvature of the earth. I talked about the majesty of immersing myself in this blue jewel of a planet, discovering myself through the effort toward such an epic quest. When we finally triumphed, after 35 years and five grueling attempts, Bonnie (Stoll) and I imagined somehow inspiring those same deep experiences for the masses. And walking was our answer. Now we talk about the blue jewel of our planet, but meaning the blue sky we gaze up at. We talk about walking over the curvature of the earth, leading groups down epic paths, hopefully inspiring them to ask themselves what they want to do with their lives. Yes, we walk for health. Yes, we are a sedentary society and EverWalk aims to literally turn our nation into a rabid nation of walkers. But above all that, EverWalk is about giving people an experience that will empower them to dream of just who they want to be.