Some of the most inspiring events at the annual NECA Convention and Trade Show are the Opening and Closing General Sessions. Every year, NECA brings talented speakers from around the world and across professions and passions to share their secrets to success. This year NECA members listened to Diana Nyad’s story about the long road to accomplishing her lifelong dream.
Never, ever give up
The world-record-setting endurance swimmer, sports broadcaster and author said that from a young age, she learned to never, ever give up – no matter the circumstances. “If you do that – success or failure – you can say you’ve lived with no regrets,” said Nyad.
Nyad’s career as a long-distance swimmer includes numerous world records. She’s known for circling Manhattan Island and crossing the 102.5 miles between the Bahamas and Florida. But the most famous is her completion of the grueling, notoriously dangerous 110-mile swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, at age 64.
The 53-hour journey Nyad completed Sep. 2, 2013, marks the fifth time she tried – after several near-death attempts – and ultimately completed what she calls her “magic star.” The first time Nyad tried to complete the swim, which sports science experts and many others deemed impossible, she was in her 20s. “After several attempts by age 30, I thought I was going to leave the dream behind, but I always had my eye on Cuba,” she shared. “It was my magic star – the thing I reached for my entire life.”
In the decades between her first Cuba attempts and age 64, Nyad went on to build a successful career as a sports broadcaster, filling reports for NPR, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Fox Sports and The New York Times. “I met so many incredible people by following world-class athletes around the globe,” she said. “But I started to no longer feel like a doer – I was a spectator. By the time I turned 60, I truly questioned if I was living with no regrets.”
So Nyad turned her eyes back to the magic star, setting her sights again on elusive Cuba: “30 years after not swimming a stroke – could I do it?”
It’s not necessarily the destination, it’s the journey
Nyad went to work with her team, including her best friend and sidekick Bonnie, to train, prepare and plan for the treacherous 110-mile swim. The foreseeable dangers were countless: poisonous box jelly fish stings, sharks, the reality of anaphylactic shock and hallucinations from the sheer physical stress – not to mention being blown off course by the notoriously strong winds and rough seas in the Florida Straits.
Nyad’s first attempt was a failure. And the second, and the third, fourth…
“With so many failed attempts, you’d think you’d get used to it, brush it off and try again,” she said. “But every time was public and it was crushing. By the fifth attempt, news crews that had been following the story said they could no longer invest time and resources into covering it. Bonnie didn’t want to go because she was sick of seeing her best friend almost die and others said it was impossible.”
Truly embodying the never, ever give up mantra, Nyad found herself standing on the shores of Havana once again – her fifth attempt. “The destination was dangling in the golden light, but for me it was more about the magic of the journey even if I wasn’t going to make it to the final shore,” she said.
Never underestimate the power of the human spirit
53 hours later on that September morning, Nyad finally saw her destination. “Never underestimate the power of the human spirit,” she said. “When the Keys finally came into view I gathered my team – all 44 of them – and I cried like a baby. I thanked each and every one of them because while it might look like a solitary sport, it truly takes a team.”
Nyad and her crew went on to receive the first-ever Medal of Honor from the Cuban government, as well as a reception with President Obama and many other accolades. But in closing, Nyad said it was never the allure of another record or world honor, but more about how the journey to accomplish her lifelong dream shaped her as a person.
“There’s a quote I often reflect on by Henry David Thoreau, ‘When you achieve your dream it’s not so much about what you get; it’s who you become,'” shared Nyad.
Nyad shares her story in her newly released memoir Find A Wayand she announced her and her best friend Bonnie are launching a nationwide challenge called Ever Walk.Taking to the land over the ocean, Nyad and Bonnie are going to walk across the U.S. to raise awareness about obesity and the negatives of a sedentary society.