When I was a few months from turning 60 (five years ago), I decided to train for and swim the Provincetown Harbor Swim for Life: A mile and a half distance from Long Point at the tip of Cape Cod to the beach at the Boat Slip. I got myself a new wet suit and dove into the water. I swam every day increasing my distance, doing some intervals, swimming in pools and open water. This swim is a fund raiser for human service organizations in PTown so I enlisted the financial support of friends to help me raise some money by sponsoring my swim. I had completed the swim before several years ago during the triathlon phase of my life, but hadn’t done any real swim training since 1994 for the Gay Games triathlon in NYC. My PTown swim seemed like a great way to welcome myself to the big 60. And it was just that.
On the day of the swim in early September, the sky was overcast. I and 300 other swimmers waded into the waters off Long Point and looked to the roof of the Boat Slip off in the distance. The water was cold and choppy enough that I gave up bilateral breathing to avoid taking in sea water every time I took a breath on my right, but other than that, it was a great swim. I completed the swim in a satisfying 60 minutes and celebrated with friends on the beach.
Fast forward five years. Diana Nyad, a world class distance swimmer; media commentator; motivational speaker; fitness guru and one of the Out 100 of 2009 named by Out Magazine, is 60 and to mark her milestone birthday she is swimming from Cuba to Key West, a distance of 103 miles. Yes, that is no typo…103 miles. The swim will take her 40-60 hours to complete. She will be in shark infested waters and swimming without a shark cage. She hopes to be the first person to accomplish this feat. She tried to complete this swim in 1979 (with a cage), but had to stop as weather and sea currents made reaching her goal impossible. Now at 60 she wants to attend to this unfinished business, this gap in her impressive athletic resume.
Therein lies the difference between Diana Nyad and most other human beings, certainly between little old me and Diana. Me: A mile and a half in Provincetown harbor and beer waiting at the Boat Slip. Diana: 103 miles without a cage in shark infested water. She is a force of nature. Anyone who has ever heard her give one of her motivational talks, drawing on her own experiences as a world record setting distance swimmer knows that she can raise the hair on your neck and inspire you. She can make you laugh and make you cry.
I have spent time with Diana many times over the last 30 years. We’ve been on panels together talking about LGBT issues in sport, I’ve been part of her audience numerous times to hear her speak. I’ve been to Women’s Sports Foundation galas where she was the emcee, I’ve been a guest on her nationally syndicated radio show. On an Olivia cruise, a few years ago, she asked permission to and then rubbed her hand over my spiky short hair and proclaimed that it felt like a “bear’s belly.” I have no doubt that she would know. Sharks, bears, 103 miles – she is fearless.
I will be following Diana’s swim which she is planning to complete sometime this month. I invite you to also. She is a women’s sports pioneer who is setting an example for all of us 60 and over (and those under 60 for that matter). If she can swim from Cuba to Key West, what kind of goals can we set for ourselves?
I just started swim training again last month. I dug my favorite goggles out of an old gym bag and got myself back in the water. I did not make the connection between Diana’s swim and my return to the water until I started writing this post, but I am sure Diana’s audacity inspired me. You go, girl! I’m rooting for you.