This week, 64-year old Diana Nyad did something something no one else had ever done before. She swam 110 miles from Havana to Key West, without a shark cage. Swimming that far is impressive by itself. Doing it without a shark cage (which reduces drag and makes for a smoother swim) is even more so. Making the swim at age 64 is amazing. To me, there’s one more feather in Ms. Nyad’s swim cap. That she did after failing FOUR TIMES in the last 30 years.
Diana Nyad first tried the swim in 1978, at age 28, using a shark cage, but was pulled out of the water by her team doctors. In 2011, well over age 60, 30 years after she quit official competitive swimming, she again made the attempt….and had to stop after 29 hours due to shoulder problems and a flare-up of her asthma. Now, most people would take that as a sign that it was time to move on to less-demanding pursuits. Just over a month later, she tried it again….and failed due to multiple jellyfish stings.
She took a year to make her next attempt – but had to be pulled from the water about half way in the swim due to (again) multiple jellyfish stings and being wildly off-course. Diana was now 63 years old – and many thought this would be her last attempt – after all, she was 30 years past her competitive peak, and every attempt had ended in failure.
That’s why I was surprised to hear that she had started another attempt – her FIFTH try after four failures….three in the last 3 years….at an age when most people are thinking of hitting the golf course. I stayed up late, checking her progress on her web site, and when I saw that she was over 3/4 of the way there, I got excited, and was silently cheering her on to make it this time.
There were a lot of reasons why I wanted her to make it. First and foremost, because no one had ever done it before. It had been done with a shark cage, and sharks notwithstanding, doing it with a shark cage gives the swimmer a drafting effect – Diana had to do this with no one making it easier for her to keep moving forward.
Second, she’s 64 years old. That gives hope to a lot of people that their lives aren’t over at 40. When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives, he clearly hadn’t met anyone like Diana Nyad. She proved that the play can go on to multiple acts, as long as you want to keep writing.
The main reason I’m impressed with this is because of her failure – Sure, it’s exciting to watch someone with great genetics and hard work win multiple gold medals in their prime, like Michael Phelps….but Michael won nearly every race he entered. I’m sure that takes determination, hard work, excellent coaching, etc…..but most people expected him to win. Every time Diana Nyad got into the water for another attempt, I was wondering when she’d get pulled out again, and if it really was time to hang it up. But….she didn’t quit. She kept trying until she made it.
In one of her post swim interviews, Nyad said her mantra through the swim was “find a way.” She said, “It doesn’t matter … what you come up against because none of it’s going to be pleasant. You’re hardly ever out there going, ‘Oh, my God, isn’t it a beautiful moon tonight?’ …all of us suffer heartache. All of us suffer difficulties in our lives. And if you say to yourself ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through.”
So, what about you? What goal is still out there for you, but you haven’t quite made it? Have you failed previously and lost your motivation? Maybe you haven’t failed enough yet. Maybe….if you keep pushing, and trying yet again, that barrier is going to fall away, and this time, you’ll not only make it….you might just make history. Find a way.