Swimming to Cuba -- at Age 61
PHOTO: Ron Baers
Talk about not giving up on a dream.
When Diana Nyad was in her late-20s, she attempted to swim 103 miles from Florida to Cuba. Already a record-holding swimmer, Nyad spent more than 41 hours in the water but had to stop after about 76 miles – due to a combination of unpleasant circumstances, including high winds and jellyfish stings. That was 1978.
This month, she plans to try it again. Nyad, a radio reporter who used to host The Savvy Traveler before National Public Radio dropped the show, is 61 years old. She only started swimming laps again last year – after 31 years out of the water.
Nyad has an impressive track record to float on, though. In 1975, she set a record for swimming around the island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. And in 1979, she spent 30 hours swimming 102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Florida, breaking another record.
Besides large waves, the harsh chafing of salt water and jellyfish, the passage between Florida and Cuba is full of sharks. But Nyad plans to swim without protection from a shark cage.
On her profile page at the Southern California radio station KCRW, Nyad explains her motivation for the swim:
Approaching 60 last year threw me into the existential angst of wondering what I had done with my life. I felt choked by how little time seemed left. I started swimming a few laps, just to take some pressure off the knees from all the other activities I enjoy. My workouts escalated. My motivation started to burn like a fire in my soul. One day I was driving, after a long swim, and I stopped and looked hard in the rearview mirror. And I said to myself: This is one dream I actually could go back and achieve. At 60, I could swim from Cuba to Florida. This time, without a shark cage. I was experiencing what millions my age are feeling these days. Disenfranchised, no longer valued, terribly worried that my best days were behind me. Yet the business of life is to live large and you can dream at any age. To me the phrase “60 is the new 40” is not a joke. We baby boomers can put truth into those words. We are far from irrelevant at 60. We’re now emotionally mature, brimming with wisdom and calm, still physically strong. This should be the prime of our lives. Training for this swim has filled me with the heartening, empowering conviction that it’s never too late to chase your dream.