A lot of people would consider her nuts. Why put your life in danger five separate times by trying to swim from Cuba to Florida, battling harmful jellyfish and running the risk of being eaten by sharks? And, especially, why do this at age 64, when a lot of people are counting down the days to retirement or hoping to save enough to take a cruise designed to keep them in elegant comfort high above the water?
Well, I don’t know all the answers to those questions, but I’m glad Diana Nyad finally made her dream come true Monday.
History has consistently produced characters who feel compelled to set endurance records, explore new worlds or prove naysayers wrong. Charles Lindbergh had a lot of Nyad in him when he sat behind the stick of the Spirit of St. Louis in his first-ever nonstop flight across the Atlantic. He didn’t have to worry about jellyfish, just ice on the wings and the danger of falling asleep. Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific on a raft at a time when luxury ocean liners could have carried him in comfort. He was trying to prove a point, but he clearly enjoyed the challenge, as well. More recently, Felix Baumgartner jumped from a height of 280,000 feet and survived. He taught scientists a lot about the effectiveness of pressurized suits. He also probably wanted to make a name for himself, but it there is a bit of that to all record-setters, and there are lessons learned from their exploits, as well.
Some of these people paved the way for the modern world. Lindbergh hastened the days of trans-oceanic passenger service. Space pioneers opened the way to a host of new technologies. Early explorers found new lands and opened new trade routes.
Nyad’s 53-hour, 110-mile swim probably isn’t going to lead to new products in stores, and it didn’t discover new lands. It was, however, an eye-opening exploration of what humans are capable of doing at age 64 despite tremendous obstacles. It also was a lesson in perseverance. She failed on four previous attempts, dating back to 1978 when she was in her 20s.
Think of it as an inner exploration – seeking out new worlds within the human mind and will. This makes Nyad’s accomplishment a much more personal one for each of us than, say, Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, as amazing as that was. Most of us won’t ever set foot on ground that doesn’t belong to earth, but we all face physical and mental obstacles we need to overcome.
“Find a way.” That’s the mantra Nyad told CBS News she kept repeating as she endured what she says was never a pleasant task.
Nyad didn’t have to do what she did. Maybe that makes her nuts. But then, people don’t have to run marathons, and they really don’t have to keep going through life’s daily struggles. But the fact that she did find a way to swim 110 miles ought to inspire the rest of us to keep exploring our own challenges, as well.