“Wouldn’t it be interesting to continue the conference for a couple of days and have every one of you tell your story?” swimming legend Diana Nyad asked more than 300 attendees more than NEW Executive Leaders Forum, August 3, 2017 in Santa Barbara. “As it turns out, it’s not your turn today, it’s mine.”
Nyad, whose 110-mile swim in 2013 from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64 fulfilled a lifelong dream and broke world records, shared her story of finding a way to realize goals no matter the obstacles.
“My story is replete with the story of an extreme endurance athlete,” Nyad said, “but I know you will extract from that, for your lives, the heart and soul of us all.”
Inspired by her Greek father’s enthusiasm for life and love of the ocean, Nyad quickly took to swimming as a young girl. When a coach learned of her last name — a Greek word for “water nymph” — he told her, ‘You’re going to be the best swimmer in the world.” Nyad was duly encouraged, and had already exhibited tenacity as a child.
“That’s all any kid needs,” she said. “I thirsted for the commitment of it all. I was a dedicated little swimmer.”
A fellow swimmer taught her the importance of every bit of time and space in competition. “I’m asking you,” the young woman said, “in the 100-meter backstroke, how long does it take you to swim that little half-moon sliver of a little pinky fingernail’s distance? Close your eyes and say ‘I couldn’t have done it a fingernail faster.’"
It was then Nyad learned how significant that unit of a fingernail sliver would be in training mind and body. “Don’t leave this much effort in that pool when I leave it,” Nyad said to herself.
Ready for even more arduous goals, Nyad was introduced to the extreme world of marathon swimming — with an ultimate goal of making it from Cuba to Florida. But as years went by, swimming took a back seat to life, love and other goals. “I started to feel like a spectator," Nyad said. “I wasn’t a ‘doer’ anymore.”
When her mother died at 82, then-60-year-old Nyad asked herself, “Could I have 22 years to live?”
She responded by answering to a long-forgotten dream. After four failed attempts to swim from Cuba to Key West, Nyad completed the dangerous and exhaustive 110-mile journey on September 2, 2013, 35 years after her first attempt in 1978.
Through it all, Nyad maintains the importance of recognizing one’s team. With a dedicated crew of training, navigation, medical, shark and jellyfish experts, Nyad is quick to point out their part of any win. "Somebody’s going to take my picture,” Nyad noted, “but don’t you ever forget my team — that we did this.”
And following the words she pronounced at the end of her record-breaking swim in 2013, Nyad continues to live and teach her life’s motto: “We should never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”