Diana Nyad Sets World Record With Historic Cuba to Florida Swim

By Courtenay Verret – September 3, 2013

Like hundreds (maybe thousands) of others late Sunday night, I couldn’t bring myself to shut down my computer. I was tired after a long day of travel; I knew I had a busy day still to come and needed to sleep. And yet, neither of those facts could keep me from refreshing my Facebook and Twitter feeds every 5 seconds, hoping for another update on Diana Nyad’s epic swim from Cuba to Florida. The 64-year-old marathon swimmer had left the Cuban shores early Saturday morning for her fifth attempt at crossing the 110 miles of the Florida Straits. This was to be her final journey, her last shot at chasing a dream that has eluded her for more than 30 years.

The swim had been going well all weekend: Conditions were good; jellyfish were few; and Nyad was swimming strong. Her fans had kept up a steady stream of optimism throughout the journey, but when Nyad’s team announced just after midnight (Central time) that they could see the lights of Key West, they set the social media world on fire. I finally fell asleep around 2 a.m., my laptop tucked under my pillow and my alarm set for 5 a.m. There were only miles to go, and I didn’t want to risk missing a thing. During my fits of restless sleep, I dreamed about Nyad gliding through the water.

Nyad with her long time best friend and swim handler Bonnie Stoll during the SXSW premiere of The Other Shore (photo by Kristen Carey)

You may already know how the story ended: Nyad arrived on the shores of the Florida Keys on Monday just before 2 p.m. EDT, sunburned and exhausted, but triumphant. “I have three messages,” she said, her lips swollen and speech slurred from the salt water. "One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team."

I met Nyad earlier this year, when she came to Austin for the SXSW World Premiere of The Other Shore, a documentary about her previous attempts to conquer the Cuba to Florida swim—attempts that many over the years have called “foolhardy,” “impossible,” and “selfish.”

Nyad dubbed her quest the “Extreme Dream” and drew inspiration from the words of an 11-year-old fan:  “An ‘extreme dream’ is something that is probably impossible, but…it just might BE possible.”

During our interview at SXSW, Nyad noted that her team had encouraged her to try a different swim in another body of water, one that wasn’t "so replete with odds working against [her]."

In the end, however, “It was Cuba. It’s always been Cuba.”

My friends and I were live streaming Nyad's arrival in Key West while waiting on our table at Chuys

This afternoon, as I streamed the live feed of Nyad’s arrival over my cell phone while squished in a crowded waiting room at Chuy’s, the tears fell freely. I tried to convey to my friends what Diana’s accomplishment meant to me, what it meant to the countless others who were lined up on the beach in Key West and causing #XtremeDream to trend on Twitter: In the end, each of us has an extreme dream we hold in our hearts. It may be one that we’re actively pursuing; it may be one that we gave up on a long time ago. It may even be one that we entertain only in our minds but don’t dare speak out loud, for fear of being mocked or told it can’t be done.

But what Diana taught us today is that what seems impossible just might BE possible…if, in the words of Winston Churchill, we “never never never give up.”

Rest well tonight, Diana. And, as we discussed in March: Enjoy waking up tomorrow morning with a big smile on your face.


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