Diana Nyad’s Test of a Lifetime

111 Miles, 2 countries, 5 attempts, 1 epic swim.

111 miles marks the distance Diana Nyad swam from the Florida Keys to reach Cuba in 2013. With determination and persistence, she achieved this lofty goal 4 years ago setting records after 35 years of training. She first had the idea to conquer “the Cuban graveyard” in the 1970s. It had a certain mystique to it and, to her, it was a personal epic she needed to embark on.

Long distance swimming is a sport of sensory deprivation. No eyes. No ears. Just you and the water. You are in the interior of your mind. What better place to ponder life’s intricacies than in the middle of the ocean? And so she began to train.

Nyad’s preparation was both a physical and mental evolution. In training, she realized that the physicality is what comes first then, once the physical is ready to suffer, the metal aspect is introduced and that is what keeps you going. If you don’t put in the hours, there’s no way your mind could talk your body into accomplishing this drastic of a goal. Your mind itself has to have the goal of survival and instinct. Without it, consider the journey over before you start.

Her journey had only just begun. While out in deep waters, she described her mindset as frankly, furious. “It’s a driving, manic feeling. It’s like waking up from a dream when reality escapes you.” Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin was one of her coping mechanisms to keep her mind sharp and intact. She paced her strokes to the lyrics and entertained her mind enough to keep it from wandering too far, however, she did mention comical recollections of seeing the Taj Mahal.

After 24 hours in the water, her body took on the perils of hypothermic temperatures. She battled salt water, strong currents and even life-threatening box jellyfish. Her 2011 attempt was cut short after running into the Irukandji jellyfish. With the help of a strong medical team, Nyad was able to recover and see another day. She believes that she’s lucky she even survived, chalking her survival up to sheer will power and resilience.

After failing 4 times, Nyad couldn’t put into words what it took to complete her last trip. The perseverance she displayed is indescribable and can be applied to many other goals in her life. This swim to Cuba is one of her greatest achievements, but she emphasizes that she still has a lot of vitality left and many other dreams to pursue.

One of those dreams being EverWalk, also known as the biggest walking initiative in American history. Its goal is to increase activity and encourage exercise nationally. Broadway may also be in the cards for Nyad, which is a unique experience different from the sporting world that she knows and loves. At the end of the day, she aims to approach all she does with the same mentality: “Do your best and if you can’t do it better, and you know that you can’t do it even a fingernail better, what more can you do?” which, I believe, is a mantra we can all live by.