“I could see the lights of Key West.”
On Labor Day 2013, September 2, Diana Nyad, age 64, walked ashore onto Florida after spending more than 50 hours and two nights swimming under her own power from Cuba. Watch these videos of her triumphant arrival.
She delivered three messages to the world, which I will simplify here:
- Never give up.
- You’re never too old.
- It takes a team.
I want to recognize her incredible courage and take a moment, as a swimmer myself, to think about the two nights she spent swimming in the open ocean. In complete darkness. Out there, civilization is gone. There are no lights. There are no landmarks to inspire you and keep you focused in the right direction. It is a place that swallows people in silence, and left alone there, you will die.
But she was not alone, as she pointed out in message number three. She had her team on the kayaks and boats, she had her doctor, coach, navigator, and many other crew members urging her onwards. The team had to keep the water dark to avoid attracting sharks, and Diana wore a red light on her cap to be identified. In the water, Diana was guided by a thin, red strip of LED light trailed underneath her from a mount on the main boat, creating a sort of bioluminescent mermaid’s tail, pointing “this way.” But little red lights in the middle of the ocean do not keep you safe or alive. Diana had to trust her team completely.
The sun rose after day and night one, and she had not slept. Another day passed as she kept swimming and willing herself forward, and the sun set again. Night number two. She had been awake for a period that would make most mortals delirious–and she had been swimming the entire time. She was entering the darkest night.
I cannot imagine how she felt on that second night. Her body had to be in survival mode from a technical standpoint, but one organ was even stronger than her body. Her mind.
In an interview today with CNN, Nyad said that for the final 15 hours of the swim, she could see lights in the distance. She knew it was Key West, her destination. After many hours of wishing herself towards those lights, there came a much greater light.
On day three, the sun rose.
Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been? Can you see it slowly peeling away the fear of darkness and ushering in the hope of day?
I could go on and on, gushing about the symbolic victory as well as the technical triumph of Diana Nyad’s swim. This feat was much, much more than a swimmer’s Mount Everest. It was one person’s dream that had died, gone into hibernation for more than 30 years, and then arose again. It was a foolish, fool’s pursuit of a gold medal in history, in life. It was impossible.
Until now. Diana Nyad proved a lesson that seems to be hitting me over the head lately. Everything is possible.