In about an hour, my husband is going to wake up from a nap with our son and be totally shocked to see that his innocuous Facebook post set off all this commentary. But it did. So here we go.
As I’m sure you all know by now, Diana Nyad completed a solo swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys, at the age of 64 and after four previous attempts. Earlier today, my husband, Dean, posted that Diana Nyad’s (at that time) near triumph was one of those things about which he didn’t know why he was supposed to care.
Now let me say a couple of important things. First, I utterly adore my husband, and I love him as much in this moment as I did yesterday before I even knew Nyad was in the water. Second, I will continue to love my husband whether or not we agree on this matter, whether or not my commentary alters his perspective. That’s it. No “but” or “however.”
That said, I was truly shocked to read his post, maybe because it was in such sharp contrast to my own feelings about Nyad’s feat. And it got me thinking about exactly why I think she matters or, at least, why she matters to me.
So, in no particular order, here’s what I think:
One — Diana Nyad is redefining our understanding of age.
Dean’s back has been bothering him lately and just this morning, I heard him tell Aidan (in a lamenting sort of way) that he (Dean) was getting old. I cringe every time I hear Dean say something like that.
There’s no question that our bodies change as we age and things that once were easy for us may become harder, but I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we link “old” with decrepit. While that is certainly true for many, I don’t believe it is the given our culture makes it. Case in point, Diana Nyad.
At 64, the woman swims for two days straight, completes a task previously accomplished by only one other woman who was in her 20s at the time, and does it in a manner more difficult than her predecessor (without a shark cage and its added momentum). Hardly the standard definition of a person in their mid-60s. I mean seriously, if that’s what it means to be “old,” hell, bring it on!
I realize, of course, that we are not all Diana Nyads (at any age), but she paints a much more desirable picture of aging than inevitable decrepitude. And if I can achieve even a fraction of her health and well-being at that age, I’ll be doing super great.
That brings me to point number two — Diana Nyad is a brilliant example of the vast potential of human beings.
Here is a woman who sets her sights on a very difficult goal. She works her butt off to achieve it, gives it all she’s got, and fails. So she tries again. And again. And again. Not only does she fail each time, but she fails brutally, involving severe physical pain and hardship. And every one of these failures is public. Extremely public. A whole nation, if not the world, is watching. And yet she keeps trying. Sometimes she sets out again quickly, other times, a lot of time goes by before she ventures out again. But she keeps getting in the water, keeps taking it on. And after decades of trying and failing, she finally, gloriously achieves her goal.
How many among us would exhibit such determination, such ferocity of spirit? Whatever fears or doubts she may have had, whatever limiting beliefs, she managed to move through them enough to keep the bar high, resist giving up, and make it to the other shore. It’s not just extraordinary. It’s inspirational. And inspiration matters. If even 1% of the population were inspired to live into their potential even a little bit more than they otherwise would, this could be a very different world we’re living in.
And that brings me to my final point — Diana Nyad gives me hope.
I’ve heard at least two people say that Diana Nyad’s achievement is only meaningful if you are a competitive swimmer. I couldn’t disagree more. I’m neither a swimmer nor an athlete of any kind. I think for anyone who holds a cherished dream, and whose dream for whatever reasons feels unattainable, Diana Nyad is a splash of much needed light in a dark sea of doubt and hopelessness.
I don’t know about you all, but I have big dreams for myself. My heart’s desire is to be of service on a global scale, to witness and influence profound change in the way humans experience themselves and each other. Sometimes, I am completely overwhelmed by these dreams. They seem so far away, so difficult to achieve, not unlike a distant shore on the far side of shark infested, jelly fish stinging waters. And the path seems sure to be exhausting, intensely cold, and brutally challenging.
Whether or not it actually will be, from where I’m standing (ostensibly the coast of Cuba), there are many obstacles between me and my goal, mental and physical obstacles that must be transformed before I can even jump in the water, much less raise my arm in a slow steady stroke, then again and again and again. Most days, it’s enough to pack up my things, get back in the car and go home.
But Diana Nyad’s triumph is something I can hold in my hand (or, at least, in my heart). I can be reminded not to give up, not now, not ever. I can tell myself age doesn’t matter. I can know that one failure or four or even ten doesn’t mean I’ll never reach the other side. I can set my sights on that distant shore and not be bothered by whomever is watching. I can be cold and tired and aching, and still carry on. Or cold and tired and aching, and give up, only to try again. I can assemble my team, give them the credit that is due, and let them support me. I can raise one arm and then the other, breathing into myself and with the sea around me, and I can make it, finally and gloriously, to the other shore.
Good Lordy Goddes, Diana Nyad matters. She certainly matters to me.