Diana Nyad: Dreamer, Champion and Feminist Superstar

Besides an irregular check-in on my hometown basketball team, the I am not one to keep up with sports. I watch the olympics for the gymnast and tennis for the aggression through oddly sexual shouts but have never been much of a sports fanatic. As a self identified feminist though, I support strong female athletes and am often disappointed by the lack of attention they get from well, everyone. To be quite frank, I am a part of that lack of support. For years I have found most fanaticism towards sport to be rather silly and unnecessary. It just made no sense to me that someone can have a horrible day at work because the night before, their favorite football team lost a game. How does a football game affect our society as a whole?

Well, I’m no longer an anti-sport feminist. That’s right folks, I’ve been swayed by a fascinating warrior of a woman, Diana Nyad. Nyad makes sport and athleticism relevant to non-sports fans because she uses her athletic abilities to parallel what it means to be the best human you can be. Here, let me explain.

Monday, September 2, 2013 Diana Nyad,64,  completed a 53-hour swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, making her the first person ever, in history, to make it without a protective cage. This was no overnight achievement. Not even years. No, this was a dream thirty five years in the makings.

Nyad first attempted the epic 110 mile swim at age 28, in the year 1978. Since 1978, she attempted the Cuba swim four more times, each time failing to complete the course due to various set backs from heart-stoping jellyfish stings to disastrous and unexpected weather or illness.In spite of failing four times in a row and being doubted from just about every media outlet of any importance, Nyad just knew she’d make it some day. Somehow, she “found a way.”

This time around Nyad came prepared with a skilled crew equipped with scientists to document her trip, her best friend and swim coach, jellyfish experts and even a team of kayakers to lead the way. She wore a suit that was well-tested to protect against jellyfish stings, a challenge she struggled with immensely in former attempts.She swam exactly one hundred and ten hours without sleep and only short breaks every 90 minutes to eat.And then she made it. Diana Nyad made it, at 64 years old, showing (among other things) that age really can be just a number.

Diana Nyad feat was so unbelievably amazing that many critiques quite literally did not believe it. After being challenged by a number of fellow long distance swimmers that couldn’t quite imagine anything close to her swim coming to fruition, Nyad defended all skepticism in a conference phone call with the Marathon Swimmers Forum, in which her crew’s navigator explained how the escapade was possible, in all it’s scientific detail.

Nyad sat with Oprah in a two-hour special where she spoke of her trails, her tribulations, and best of all, how she overcame and conquered. In the inspirational interview, Nyad spoke of her desire since childhood to be a star athlete. She spoke of her recognition, even at age ten, that life is short. That we come on this earth for a little time, so why not use that time to make a positive impact in whatever way that you can? She spoke of her resilience from past sexual abuse by her former swim coach and her new outlook on life after her mother passed. She spoke of way she feels so strong now in her mature age of 64, and touched on a number of topics except for the obvious; Nyad neither spoke directly about her gender being a factor, nor her sexual orientation as a drive for making an impact as a champion athlete. Instead, she had a very adamant and universal focus; determination, with the empowering mantra “ Find a way.”

”All of us suffer heartaches and difficulties in our lives. If you say to yourself, ‘find a way,’ you’ll make it through, ” Nyad told Oprah.

Diana Nyad is an inspiration for not just women, or people “over-the-hill”; she’s an inspiration for anyone who has ever has a dream, anytime, ever. “Find a way.” The fact that she is a woman and also a queer woman is only icing on the feminist cake. No one cares or even remembers it took her 35 years, and all that really matter now is that she made it. Without ever mentioning the word feminist, she oozes feminism to the core by simply being.

Just one month after her successful, record-breaking swim, Nyad took the plunge again, this time into a pool set-up in busy Herald Square in Manhattan, New York. But this time, Nyad was coming from a completely different angle. Her Herald Square pool swim ran 48-hours straight specifically to raise money and awareness for all those affected by last year’s devastating Superstorm Sandy.In pure Nyad fashion, Diana helped raise a total $103,001 to go to Sandy victims as she made her way out of the pool, having swam every last drop of the 48 hours. So in other words, Nyad continued to be an awesome human being.

Diana Nyad had no doubt that one day she would make it from Cuba to Florida, and somehow after 35 years, she did just as she planned; she found a way. She reminded us why sports are so important in our culture.Resilience, power, strength, hope, persistence, teamwork, humanism through sports advocacy. Simple human characteristics anyone can strive to achieve. Rather than an elaborate speech after her successful swim that sunny September day, Nyad just made three powerful points

  “I have three messages: One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you are never too old to chase your dream. And three is, it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.”

Of course this advice is not specific to sports, but every good athlete in all of history follows these three simple rules. Athleticism done right is simply a reflection of what it means to be a good human being, and Nyad is all that. So really, shouldn’t we all aspire to have an athletic state of mind, whether we like sports or not? Diana Nyad, the champion, sure makes me think so.

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