“I wanted to teach myself some life lessons at the age of 60,
and one of them was that you don’t give up.”
I think you are all aware by now that I have a rather substantial lady crush on Diana Nyad. In fact, I am pretty sure I wrote a whole post about it at one point. This post, however, is not simply about how much I am in total awe and inspired by her (which I totally still am), but rather what I have learned from her about life and specifically failure.
When Diana made her #EPIC journey from Cuba to Florida, I was glued to the CNN app on my phone (I’m talking Boston Marathon levels of stalking). For me, it was the equivalent of Man’s First Steps on the Moon. Here was this woman in her sixties taking on the ocean, Gulf Stream, dehydration, hypothermia, sharks, jelly fish, and exhaustion in the hopes of finally chasing down her dream. She wasn’t deterred by her age, all her failed previous attempts, or even the fact that her most recent attempt had nearly killed her, TWICE! She was all in, Cuba or Bust.
It happened at a time in my life when I was struggling to learn to swim. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around swimming the amount of time or distance she was attempting, forget all the other hazards… or the currents… or salt water… or restrictive gear (because we all know how much I love my wetsuit… NOT!) To me, she was the epitome of the indomitable human spirit. I would think about her during my swims just in awe on so many levels.
The more I learned about her, the deeper my admiration grew. This is not a woman who has had an easy life. In fact, she’s had very much the opposite. She was abused by her father and assaulted by her swim coach for years in silence. Being abused by my ex husband as an adult almost broke me. I can’t even imagine what kind of strength it took to survive and endure being injured in that way by the men she was supposed to be able to trust at such a young age without ever reaching out to someone for support. Beyond that, that fact that she has the courage to speak about it openly (especially in a culture with such prevalent victim shaming) speaks volumes to her personal fortitude and character.
I don’t know whether it was inherent strength that got her through or developed out of necessity, but I doubt it is a coincidence that a woman who was able to endure and thrive after that kind of childhood abuse is the same one who was able to shut down her critics and swim from Cuba to Florida. Coming from a place of having survived and overcome the betrayal of physical and emotional abuse, I can speak first hand to the type of perspective it can give on life and specifically on pain.
Everyone has a scale for pain. When something hurts, your brain is programmed to compare it to past hurt. There is NOTHING in this life that I have ever encountered in the way of physical pain that even comes close to the psychological pain associated with abuse. No sport, race, or distance to date, and I doubt any ever will. It may be a reach, but somehow I think swimming 50+ hours across the ocean probably doesn’t compare for Diana either.
However, the reason I admire Diana is not the fact that she is an open survivor of abuse, so much as who she is as a person. She had a crummy past, but it doesn’t define her. Instead, it has made her tough as nails. She is utterly unwilling to accept defeat, and that is my kind of lady. If Diana has taught me anything in life, it’s that there is no such thing as failure unless you quit. You may have failed attempts, but until you throw in the towel and give up- it’s not over.
Prior to hearing about Diana and learning about her, I used to worry about the big D-N-F. I was afraid of failing. However, now I realize it’s not a failure unless I give up on my goal. As long as my desire and dream are still alive, I’m not defeated; and the story isn’t over.
When you look at her journey from Cuba to Florida, Diana didn’t fail on those previous attempts. They were all important steps on her journey to get there. In the end, I’m sure the fact that she had to fight so hard for so long made it that much more meaningful and rewarding. So now, every time I have a goal (like 70.3) that I just can’t seem to get to, that is what I think of. It’s not a failure, it’s just going to take a little longer than planned. Eventually I will get there, and the victory that much sweeter.
PS. If you haven’t seen Ms. Nyad’s documentary The Other Shore yet, you should probably watch it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a swimmer or even remotely interested in swimming. You should still watch it. Because the truth is, it’s not about swimming. It’s about living.