find a way

What I’ve Learned About Failure From Diana Nyad

“I wanted to teach myself some life lessons at the age of 60,

and one of them was that you don’t give up.”

-Diana Nyad

 inspire

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.

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Adjusting My Sails

“I can’t change the direction of the wind,

but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
Jimmy Dean

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So before I update you all about my latest big decision, let me fill you all in on the latest going ons of the week.  No big surprise that’s it’s been a busy one!  Let’s break it down shall we:

The Good

On Saturday I went for a Daffodil Group Ride with some peeps from the Tri Club which entailed a very scenic 26 mile ride through the countryside.  It was loads of fun, and I was able to keep up this time without any real trouble.  It also was a great opportunity to meet some new people and get some mileage in on my bike.  Due to the frequent stops for photos (and chatting) it was terrific practice for clipping and unclipping too!

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Lately, I feel like every time I get on my bike, I get more and more comfortable… and consequently that much better.  I have been extremely fortunate to have joined an exceptional Tri Club (through our local YMCA) with members who have been beyond supportive.  I was so afraid initially of people getting annoyed with me for being too slow or a giant chicken, but in reality everyone has been nothing but encouraging.  The group ranges from elite athletes (who –ahemwin Ironmans) to novices… to train wrecks like me.  Sometimes I feel like the only newbie in the group, but I think that is primarily because I am always trying to push myself to do the harder rides and workouts.  At no point, though, have any of them made me feel like I don’t belong or am not good enough to train with them.  I have truly enjoyed getting to know every member I have met so far.  

Plus, I have found that group riding has done wonders for my comfort level with cycling.  I am so much braver when I am with the Tri Club peeps.  I think a lot of it has to do with being distracted by the company.  Making conversation with the people around you is a great way to relax, as it turns out.  Who would have ever guessed?  

Anyway, the ride was by no means easy.  There was a long steady climb for a good part of the way out and lots of quick winding downs coming back.  I spent most of the trip trying to catch the two gentlemen ahead of me, which was perfect for motivating to move faster without getting freaked out about it.  They were both very warm and friendly, and the fact that one of them happens to be a minister only added to my ease about being around them. (I told him I felt much safer riding with a minister.. maybe that’s why I worked so hard at keeping up!)

I definitely came off the ride on a high note.  I managed a moderately difficulty route… (Did I mention all the left turns, traffic, and intersections (ie cycling hazards) at the beginning?) AND I wasn’t even that tired at the end.  Mostly I was hungry, but that seems to be my biggest issue with cycling.  I suppose I will have to work on balancing well enough to eat without stopping… mental note to add that to my goal list…

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The Bad

Now that we’ve covered the highlights of my weekend, let’s recap where it all went down hill, shall we?  

Having conquered my Saturday bike with dignity still intact, I was feeling pretty optimistic going into my first open water swim.  After all, I am a swimmer now.  I go to the pool and turn out laps like it’s my job.  I just keep going, and all is good and right in the world.  

Enter the wetsuit…

I thought it was a great sign that I scored a great deal on The Clymb, and that my wetsuit came in time for the first session.  However, I was slightly nervous having read all the horror stories about first time experiences with open water swimming and wetsuits.  I expected the suit to feel tight.  I expected to feel anxious about not being able to see more than a few inches.  I even expected the water to be really cold.  Somehow, though, I did not expect to struggle as badly as I did.

Image  On the bright side, I did have a few things in my favor.  The first is that swimming, in general, causes me anxiety and makes my heart rate skyrocket.  In that sense, I am very accustomed to having to calm myself, slow down, and get my heart rate under control.  This came in handy when the discomfort (and resulting anxiety) associated with the freezing water and tightness of the wetsuit caused my my pulse to quicken.  I spent almost the entire first half of my swim doing a modified version of breast stroke (speaking of strokes… Coach M may have had one if she saw my technique) so as to keep my face out of the water… which just happened to be a cozy 64 degrees.

Being completely stupid and delusional a glutton for punishment, I had decided to forego starting simple and went straight for the half ironman course instead.  After all, if I can swim over 2 miles easily in the pool, then 1.2 miles should be no problem, right?  Yeah, not so much… There was a point when I considered turning around sooner, but I knew there was a dock waiting at the turn around for the HIM where I could get out and warm up before heading back.  Had I done a shorter route, defrosting was not an option.  

By the time I reached the dock, I was managing 6-10 strokes at a time before my heart rate would climb.  I considered this a major victory.  I was very grateful to have my own personal Triathlon Guardian Angel looking out for me (the same Tri Club member who offered reassurance and called me a rockstar at the duathlon).  I hadn’t realized that he kept an eye out for me the whole way, and I actually felt guilty that I had caused him to stay in the freezing water so much longer than he would have otherwise.  He kept telling me how great I was doing and meant it sincerely (which is especially amusing when you consider that I probably looked like I was drowning).  In the beginning, he tried to swim beside me and give me advice on sighting and my stroke.  Eventually he gave me space to sort it out on my own.  It wasn’t until I saw him at the dock that I was aware of how long he had been keeping tabs on me.

Once he saw I finally had the hang of things, he headed back.  Meanwhile, I only stayed out of the water long enough to warm up enough to breath before hopping right back in to start the swim back.  Because they were already taking down the course, I had my own personal kayak escort for the entire stretch back (sort of the equivalent of the running sag wagon).  I am proud to say that I did at least front crawl the entire way back.  I only stopped twice briefly to change strokes and catch my (frozen) breath.  I finally was getting the hang of sighting and was kicking harder than I probably ever had in my life to get to that shore (and my fleece pants!).  

Even though I should have been proud of myself for sticking it out, I wanted to cry.  My half ironman dreams seemed so out of reach at that moment.  Here I had invested so much time and effort, but it did nothing to prepare me for that swim.  The open water swimming was a whole separate beast.  It was yet another hurdle I needed to overcome, and it made me realize how badly I wanted it.  

I was surprised when I got out of the water that I was greeted not just by other people, but by some cheers.  I thought everyone would have already packed up and headed home, but instead they were there encouraging me.  They said they were impressed by how much I had swum (especially given how much extra I did going off course) and were surprised when I told them it was my first open water swim.  I think one woman’s mouth even dropped when I told her I had only first started swimming in October.  So all in all, I guess it was not as epic a failure as it seemed at the time.

The Ugly

As I said, I am a glutton for punishment.  I think we are all well aware of that by now.  Any normal person who had an exhausting morning of fighting a wetsuit in freezing water would probably call it a day, but I needed to know if the REV3 bike course was doable.  I had heard it was hilly and challenging, however, I also have heard that triathlons tend to be less hilly than regular cycling.  I convinced the hubs to ride it with me, and within 10 miles I was ready to turn around.  My body was exhausted, and to be 100% honest- I WAS SCARED $H%TLESS.  The course was all up or down.  It was really steep at parts, and the wind was so bad it was literally knocking me off balance.  Since the last miles of the course are a repeat of the beginning anyway, we basically covered over 20 miles of the course.  I felt completely defeated.  I couldn’t believe I had worked so hard, and yet I was light years away from what I needed to accomplish for this race.  

Being the most supportive husband on the planet, the Adam rode the course on his own yesterday to see how bad it was.  He biked all 56+ brutal miles just to see how long it would take and gauge if I could do it.  I had no idea what he was up to until I saw him this morning.  He finally agreed with me that there was no way I would make it through in the allotted time.  He is a FAR superior cyclist than me and it took him 4 hours.  He said he had every faith in me that I could handle the course, but didn’t think there was any way I would do it fast enough for the cut off, especially after swimming.  It must have been far worse than I ever could have imagined for him to concede this.  He did finally admit that it only became progressively harder throughout the route.  

The Silver Lining

Obviously, I was disappointed, but he only confirmed what I already knew in my heart.  The race I have had my heart set on for the past year is a greater monster than I ever could have imagined.  I am not giving up on my dream to finish it one day, but it won’t be this year for me.  Instead, I went ahead and registered for the Olympic Distance.  Given that I am still scared to death, I am pretty sure I will still be challenging myself… which also means I should be able to live with this decision without being too disappointed.  As Swim Bike Mom likes to say, the important thing is to Keep Moving Forward.  

I may not meet my goal in the initial timeframe I set for myself, but I am also not giving up.  I still want to do a half ironman this year, and I still want to do the REV3 Quassy (someday).  In the meantime, I will continue to take steps to get there- even if they are baby steps instead of giant leaps!  Right now, the next step is the REV3 Olympic Course.  

In the words of Diana Nyad (my idol who I tried to channel during my freezing, anxiety provoking swim):

 I will find a way.