At Thursday’s closing general session at #CeridianINSIGHTS, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad took the stage and immediately captivated the audience with her incredible story of courage and perseverance.
At age 64, in her fifth and final attempt, Diana Nyad successfully fulfilled her life-long dream of completing the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage on September 2, 2013. She shared her powerful message of determination and resolve with more than 2,000 INSIGHTS attendees.
Nyad’s early career
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the seed for Nyad’s dream was planted early when her mother pointed out the direction of Cuba to her. She told a young Nyad that it was “so close she could almost swim to it.”
Nyad began her competitive swimming career as a young girl working tirelessly towards the goal of making the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In her most important swim to date, Nyad needed to finish in the top three to move on. Nyad gave her all, swimming every stroke with all she had. When she touched the final wall, she closed her eyes knowing she could not have done “a fingernail better.” Nyad came in sixth. Disappointed but with no regrets, Nyad knew she did the best she could. Unfortunately with that finish, she would be leaving behind her Olympic dream after 10 years of grueling training and commitment.
A distance swimmer in the making
Nyad officially began her long-distance swimming career when she plunged into 48-degree water in Lake Ontario in the early 70’s. Competing against men and women, Nyad found her inner courage. After 18 hours, she emerged first among the women and third among men. She described how long-distance swimming is a microcosm of life’s ups and downs. She says, “You have to find the drop of courage you don’t think you have. If you don’t quit, you’ll make it to your other shore.”
Cuba to Key West
For Nyad, there had been other swims, but to her it was always about Cuba. People have been trying to complete this swim since 1950. She noted it is like the Mount Everest of distance swimming.
Mired by four previous attempts, including multiple severe jellyfish attacks on her third attempt, Nyad took to the waters in Havana, Cuba on August 31, 2013. Accompanied by a team of more than 35, Nyad swam the 110 miles without a shark cage. Her only protection was a full bodysuit, gloves, foot protection and a silicone mask to protect against jellyfish.
Swimming in total, complete darkness, Nyad found her inner courage and strength. She would sing songs, recall Stephen Hawking books… really do anything to keep herself going. When she saw the first lights of Key West, Nyad thought it was the morning light of a new day. Upon seeing these lights, she still had 15 more hours to go.
Nyad reached Key West 53 hours after she began her journey. Her message to the world after coming to shore breathless and completely exhausted was:
- Never, ever give up
- You are never too old to chase your dreams
- It looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team
Truly a remarkable champion and an inspirational speaker, Nyad left #CeridianINSIGHTS attendees on the edge of their seats and feeling empowered to take on their dreams and challenges. We would like to extend a special thank you to her for joining us!