First of all, let me thank all of you for supporting this blog so enthusiastically--this is my 200th posting, and I'm sure that I will never run out of interesting stories about amazing women!
Today, I'd like to celebrate 64 year old marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, who became--after four failed attempts--the first person to ever swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida. Her father was a stockbroker who died when she was an infant (1: No Paternal Safety Net). When her mother remarried, Aristotle Nyad adopted her, became her stepfather, and told her that Nyad--in Greek--meant that she would conquer the sea.
The family moved from New York City to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and she began swimming seriously in the seventh grade (2: An Early Sense of Direction). She won three Florida State high school championships in the backstroke, and dreamed of swimming in the 1968 Summer Olympics. But in 1966, she was forced to spend three months in bed with endocarditis, an infection of the heart. By the time she was able to start swimming again she had lost her championship speed (12: Hard Times).
She entered Emory University, but was expelled for jumping out of a 4th-floor dormitory window while wearing a parachute (11: Risk Addiction). She then transferred to Lake Forest College in Illinois, where she majored in English and French, played on the tennis team, resumed (distance) swimming, and graduated in 1973.
Buck Dawson, who directed the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida introduced her to marathon swimming (4: Supportive Someone) and she set a women's world record (four hours and 22 minutes) in her first event (8: Turning No into Yes). In June 1974, she set a women's record of eight hours 22 minutes in the 22 mile Bay of Naples Race, and the next year (when she was 26) she swam 28 miles around the Island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. Her first attempt to swim from Havana to Key West (in 1978) was in a shark cage, but ended after 42 hours and 76 miles. In 1978, she was an honoree of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. In 1979, on her 30th birthday, she set a world record for distance swimming by swimming 102 miles from North Bimini Island, Bahamas to Juno Beach, Florida. It took her 27 and one-half hours. She then stopped swimming (14: Selective Disassociation) completely for 30 years.
She then began working as a successful sports broadcaster (NPR and CBS) and journalist (Newsweek and The New York Times), and earned over $10,000 for her motivational talks (13: More Than Meets the Eye). After her mother's death, Nyad couldn't stop thinking about the Cuba to Florida swim, and began training in the Caribbean. Her August, 2011, September, 2011 and August, 2012 attempts all failed due to asthma, strong currents or dangerous jellyfish stings (7: Magnificent Obsession). While swimming, she has a mental soundtrack of songs that she sings to herself over and over again (9: Music).
To get a better feel of Diane Nyad's personality, watch her two-part interview with Oprah on "Super Soul Sunday" or her TED lecture. And a Showtime Channel special, "The Other Shore" will be broadcast the first week of November.
Looking forward to your comments...