WHY is Diana Swimming 103 Miles???

Carol Shaughnessy | September 2010

Diana Nyad is one tough lady. And she’d better be, because swimming 103 miles from Cuba to Key West is one tough task — a task not many 61-year-olds would attempt.

At 61 years old, Diana Nyad is poised to attempt a 103-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. (Photos by Haig Jacobs, Florida Keys News Bureau)

At 61 years old, Diana Nyad is poised to attempt a 103-mile swim from Cuba to Key West. (Photos by Haig Jacobs, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Diana hopes to begin her marathon swim any day now, but it won’t be the first time she’s challenged herself to attempt the feat. In 1978, when she was 32 years younger and a seasoned athlete, she didn’t make it.

Instead, battered and weak, she was hauled into a support boat by friends after spending more than 41 hours battling strong currents and punishing waves.

This time, she believes, will be different. And while having turned 60 might seem to be a disadvantage, for Diana Nyad it was just the inspiration she needed.

“Honestly, I have not been sitting around for all these 32 years thinking ‘my life is miserable without making it from Cuba to Florida’,” Diana said recently during a break in her final training in Key West. (Click here to view a You Tube video interview segment with Diana.)

Tough and savvy, Diana is motivated by the desire to shatter negative stereotypes about older people.

Tough and savvy, Diana is motivated by the desire to shatter negative stereotypes about older people.

In fact, she’s a popular radio and television personality and author who lives in L.A. and looks far younger than her chronological age. Yet after celebrating her 60th birthday last year, she decided somebody needed to shatter the modern-day perception that older people are “past it.”

“I’m strong, I’m vital, I still feel relevant to my community, but you’re not made to feel that way at 60 in this society,” Diana said. “I want 60-year-olds to look at me and say, ‘You know that silly bumper sticker ‘60 is the new 40’? She’s proving it’.”

So she began training for the 103-mile swim — which, coincidentally, is estimated to take about 60 hours (yes, that’s an almost unbelievable two-and-a-half days).

As well as being physically and mentally challenging, the feat also involved logistical challenges that rivaled those of an Everest expedition. They included getting government permissions from both the U.S. and Cuba, and assembling a support team (it eventually grew to 37 people).

Diana's nonstop marathon swim is expected to take an incredible 60 hours.

Diana's nonstop marathon swim is expected to take an incredible 60 hours.

Unlike her 1978 attempt, Diana won’t be swimming in a protective shark cage. This time, she’ll be accompanied by professional kayakers with electronic shark repelling devices — just in case.

In mid-July, with the details falling into place, Diana successfully completed a 24-hour swim in the Gulf Stream off Key West. And recently, she’s been staying in the island city, where the community has embraced her as she waits for the right weather conditions to begin the marathon.

“The people in town have been so generous to me,” Diana marveled. “The Southernmost Hotel has given me a free hotel room for as long as I’m here, the Key West Yacht Club is giving us a free boat slip for our boats … these generous donations from the good people here in the Keys have helped me enormously and I will be forever grateful.”

A seasoned athlete with tremendous physical and mental reserves, Diana believes she has a better chance for success now than she did during her first attempt 32 years ago.

A seasoned athlete with tremendous physical and mental reserves, Diana believes she has a better chance for success now than she did during her first attempt 32 years ago.

She hopes to end the swim in Key West. But if currents sweep her closer to some other part of the Keys, that’s just fine too.

She’s got plenty of mental techniques to help pass the hours at sea, like counting her strokes in every language she knows and following the beat of metronomic songs. But ultimately, it will come down to her personal resilience and staying power … qualities Diana believes have only increased with age.

“I definitely am a little slower than I used to be but I think I have a better chance mentally, and in spirit and will, than I did before,” Diana said. “And after all, that’s what it’s all about out there — the will.”

May this tough, inspiring lady stay safe, stay focused, and emerge triumphant on the welcoming shores of the Keys.

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