UPDATE 8/8/11 : Diana Nyad forced to abandon 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida early Tuesday morning — roughly halfway through her journey.
The big moment is finally here. Distance swimmer Diana Nyad tweeted, “It’s my time to be fearless.”
If all goes according to plan, late Sunday she’ll attempt to set a world record, swimming in the open water, without a shark cage, from Cuba to Key West, Florida. It’s 103 miles; she expects it’ll take at least 60 hours.
Via her press release:
Back in her twenties, the decade of the 1970’s, Diana Nyad set a number of open water records, most notable the longest ocean swim in history, the 102.5 miles between the island of Bimini in the Bahamas to Jupiter, Florida. She was also the first woman ever to circle Manhattan Island, in 1975, a feat which led Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to call Diana “her hero”.
Considered the greatest distance swimmer in the world in her day, Diana retired at the age of 30 and went on to a dignified career as a sports commentator, covering many Olympic Games and world-class sporting events for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Fox Sports Television, and National Public Radio.
And in the 30 years since that historic Bahamas crossing in 1979, Diana did not swim one single stroke. She lived her life at a very high level of fitness, even running an online fitness business, BravaBody.com. But she had reached swimmer’s burnout and had never looked back to those days in the ocean.
It surprised her more than anyone. During the summer of 2009, 30 years past her athletic prime, Diana was turning 60. And she didn’t like it. She was overcome with the existential angst that millions of baby boomers share: feeling disenfranchised, no longer valuable, no longer vital. She refused to cave to the notion of 60 as old. “90 is old. At 60, we’re still vibrant, strong, willful.”
“My motivation started to burn like a fire in my soul,” says Nyad. “One day I was driving and I stopped and looked hard in the rearview mirror. And I said to myself: “Wait a minute, there is a way I could prove…to myself and my fellow baby boomers…that we are indeed still powerful. There is one dream that eluded me in my youth, a dream I actually could go back and achieve now. I could swim from Cuba to Florida!”
The only missing link in her esteemed athletic career was Cuba. In 1978 she bravely fought a raging sea for 41hrs, 49 mins, but was hopelessly blown off course. Her dream swim was not to be.
If Cuba-Florida was not possible in her twenties, why in the world does she imagine she can achieve it now, at 61? “From the summer of 2009 to this moment, I have immersed myself in total commitment. My will has pushed my body through 12 and 15 hour swims in Mexico and the Caribbean. I swam strong for a non-stop 24 hours South of Key West on July, 2010. My body…and my spirit…are ready. This swim may take an unfathomable 60 non-stop hours to complete. Am I afraid? Yes? Yet I’m confident that, with the luck of fairly calm seas, I will stay in that ocean and continue to move forward until I walk, or crawl, up onto the Florida coast.”
This will be history. Diana will be the first to make this crossing without the aid of a shark cage. But, for Diana, the motivation is far more than a personal athletic achievement. “I carry the message of empowerment with every stroke that it’s never, ever too late to chase your dreams. The cliché these days is ’60 is the new 40’. Well, I’m living proof that people my age are still bursting with vitality.”
The details of the voyage are fascinating…..and somewhat eccentric. Though the Gulf waters are at their warmest in forty years, they are still below body temperature and hypothermia is a huge risk for Diana. She lost a whopping 29 pounds in the first Cuba attempt, the expenditure of calories being so much higher than what she can take in as she comes close to the boat for nutrition. She can never get out on the boat, nor hang onto the boat at any time. Kayakers will paddle very close to her with donated electronic Shark Shields attached to their boats, pulsing out elliptical fields of electricity that repel sharks. Her team of handlers is prepared to quickly apply pain-numbing liquid to her skin if she swims into the tentacles of the very painful Portuguese Man of War. Underwater lights have had to be rigged for her to see where she’s going through the night. What does the human body experience over 60 hours of hard swimming in the ocean? What does a 61-year-old body experience?
Inspired fans are helping fund the boats, fuel, navigators, electronics, shark shield devices and other expenses of the expedition through Diana’s personal web site diananyad.com. Secret brand has supported with a full court press effort to raise awareness via a “Fearless” social media campaign tied to facebook.com/secret.
Nyad wants to see people inspired to chase their own dreams. For decades, this woman, whose real name actually means “nymph of the oceans,” has been at the heart and soul of the baby-boomer generation, many of whom are feeling that their best days are behind them. This summer, after swimming over 100 miles in the open ocean, she hopes others her age will be fired up to write the novels they always dreamed of, start that small business they thought it was too late for, do something…anything they thought they were too old to do. Diana intends to make her generation truly believe that “middle age really is our prime, not the beginning of the end”.