This week I met Diana Nyad, a champion swimmer who amazed the world with her epic swim two years ago from Cuba to Florida—at the age of 64. That swim would be treacherous for anyone, at any age, with its shark- and box jellyfish-infested waters, that are also known for unpredictable currents, swells and extreme weather. I stumbled upon her engagement at Pages Bookstore here in my little home town of Manhattan Beach, Calif. I was in the bookstore earlier that day and someone who worked there kindly suggested that I come back that evening, even though it was sold out. I did and they let me slip in under the radar once I bought her book. What a deal! I sat in the back beside 1984 Olympian runner Cathy Caplener. Yeah, we have that kind of town here in Calif. Another Olympian was in the house, as well as Kelly Dixon, who swam the English Channel twice and is now preparing for her 3rd swim.
Pages Bookstore was packed with locals, many of us athletes. The question and answer session afterwards was amazing. The questions dealt with motivation, sticking to a routine of grueling training, blocking out negativity, and team-building and preparation tips. But as Diana said, her message of inspiration and her gripping come-back story isn’t one just for professional athletes—many of whom already have a champion mentality and a team to guide them. No, she wants to reach anyone who may feel as if they are giving up on their dreams.
“Are you living a life of purpose?” she asked the audience. “I asked myself this after 30 years of being a sports commentator. It’s not just what do I want to do—but who do I want to be?” She then told the audience about her favorite poet, whom she also quotes in her book, Mary Oliver. Oliver’s line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” spoke to Diana. As she turned 60 and lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, Diana said she began swimming again and training to go back. She said it wasn’t because she was haunted by not making the swim earlier in her life, she said it was just a whisper inside her that she ought to give it another go.
Diana is clearly the perfect athlete to reach a wide audience. Not only is she extremely humble and engaging—introducing herself to everyone in the room before speaking—she is one of the most positive and inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. As I walked away from our chat at the end of the evening, for instance, she said this to me: “I’m going to see one of your books on these shelves soon!”
Wow. What an inspiring person. I’m only half way through her new book Find a Way, but I can tell you this–it is not just a sports memoir. It is a thriller and a self-help, motivational book that reads as well as any Oprah book club picks. If you are dismissing it because you aren’t an athlete, you are missing the entire point of her book.
Maybe you aren’t trying to train for 15 to 18 hours a day to meet a physical challenge. You certainly don’t plan on swimming without a shark tank in dangerous waters where one box jellyfish sting could be lethal. Of course you don’t need to plan against severe dehydration, salt imbalance and extreme physical fatigue and digestion that won’t allow you to digest even one sip of Coca-cola while every muscle begins to feel as if it is tearing from your joints and bones. No, you don’t plan to swim in the pitch dark continuing to stroke all night long while you wonder if any shark or box jellies will find a way to get to you. Her story is one of a warrior and one that many may just feel doesn’t apply to them. But that’s where the metaphor gets lost.
After her talk and book signing last Thursday, the two of us chatted about her goals with the book. She even asked my opinion of the book cover as she wants to reach an audience beyond the extreme sports athlete, Mount Everest Climbers and Olympic hopefuls. When I told Diana that I’m a journalist, novelist and a yoga teacher, she didn’t bat an eye. She clearly embraces mind, body ,spirit integration. I let her know that I work with cancer patients and seniors at a hospital and that her words would really resonate with them. I was going to suggest they read her book for inspiration to not give up after multiple surgeries or setbacks.
“Exactly,” Diana said to me with a smile. “There are people out there fighting things so much harder than my swim. I want to speak to them.”
This woman beat all the odds, even after two failed attempts and after experts and colleagues told her to give up. She didn’t. And here’s what her message (paraphrased) says to all of us, no matter what our goals are:
-Never, Ever give up.
-Be present, in the NOW.
-Let go of regret.
-Let go of doubt.
-Let go of the past.
-Let go of trying to force the future.
-Focus on the task at hand.
-Reach for your dreams one step at a time.
-Prepare and train every day, focussing on that day’s training or work only. So, if you’re a writer, focus on that one page. If you’re an athlete, focus on that one days training. You get the idea.
-Find a team to help you get there. We all need support.
-Don’t accept skeptics, haters or doubters. Surround yourself with positive support.
-If you fail, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. It means it didn’t work this time. What did you learn from it? How can you do it differently? How can you better prepare?
-Be grateful for every breath, every friend who supports you and for the journey.
-When lost in doubt, ask yourself these questions: ‘Who am I? Why am I doing this? Why do I want this dream?” You’ll come back to center.
Here’s Diana’s interview with Oprah after her epic swim. It’s surprising and inspiring as she discusses her dreams, from a young age, and how she knew she wanted to be a professional athlete and was aware there was only a finite number of years on Earth to achieve her dreams.
Her documentary The Other Shore is also an amazing, gripping way to see her story.
So what’s in the future for Diana? As she said to Oprah, she just wants to live a life that is worthy. A life that makes a difference. A life that helps others find a way to reach their highest potential. So, she plans to walk across America to end the obesity epidemic in America and aid children with Diabetes. Here’s an article that outlines this next venture.First Lady Michelle Obama will walk the last five miles with the group. I plan to walk with her while she’s in Los Angeles later this year, and will try to get my boys to join in!
I hope you enjoyed this post. And, more importantly, I hope you buy Diana’s book, watch her Oprah interview, or her documentary and feel a small spark to try again.
Have a beautiful day! L. xo