Extreme perseverance: 64-year-old Diana Nyad’s 5th try at the “Xtreme Dream” of swimming from Cuba to Key West

Imagine being at the top of your game, doing what you love – and then abruptly walking away.

Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who set world records in the 1970s, did just that. From 1969 to 1979, she was arguably the world’s greatest long distance swimmer, breaking numerous men’s as well as women’s records. On August 22, 1979, Nyad set an open sea record for both men and women by swimming 102.5 miles from Bimini in the Bahamas to Jupiter, Florida without a shark cage. That day was her 30th birthday – and her last competitive swim.

For 30 years she didn’t swim a single stroke.

Speaking about it in 2010, Nyad said  “I was so burned out. You couldn’t pay me to take one more stroke.” But 30 years later, she had a change of heart and mind. “I was having an existential crisis about being 60,” she said. “I told myself, ‘You have to get real with life’s lessons, one of which is, you can’t go back.’ ” But, she realized, she could in a way go back – by going forward to complete her dream swim between Cuba and Florida. In 1978 she had attempted the 103-mile journey from Havana to Key West, using a shark cage. After almost 42 hours though, Nyad had to stop: she was so far off course due to high waves and strong currents that completing the swim would have been impossible.

The distance per se would not be the goal this time: she’d already successfully completed that open-water swim of almost 103 miles in 1979. The goal was finishing what she’d started in 1978, but upping the ante in two ways: 1) going slightly farther than she did in 1979, this time not with favorable winds and currents, but through strong shifting currents and 2) swimming through those shark-filled waters without a cage.

Training for this swim would test far more than her physical endurance – it would test her mental toughness, her resolve, her ability to find that razor’s edge between realizing your utmost, fullest capabilities and accepting limits. Continue reading