Although Not Able to Reach Florida, Nyad Does Help Change Expectations of Aging

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Congratulations to Diana Nyad! Although CNN reported that she wasn’t able to complete her planned swim of 103 miles from Cuba to the United States (she was forced to stop at the 29 hour-mark – or about half-way -- into the swim due to powerful currents, ocean swells and some health issues), Nyad did break a barrier about what people “a certain age” can accomplish.

    To remind people of who exactly Diana Nyad is, here’s information from her website:  “For ten years (1969-1979), Diana Nyad was the greatest long distance swimmer in the world. In 1978, she attempted to swim 100 miles from Cuba to Florida. After being in the water for 41 hours and 49 minutes, Diana fell short of her goal due to strong currents and bad weather. In 1979, she stroked the longest swim in history making the 102.5 mile journey from the island of Bimini (Bahamas) to Florida. She also broke numerous world records, including what had been a 50-year mark for circling Manhattan Island, setting the new time of 7 hrs 57 min. Diana is a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.”

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    Then Nyad retired and spent three decades as a radio and TV journalist. “During all that time, she stopped swimming,” NPR’s Greg Allen reported. “But then, two years ago, faced with her impending 60th birthday, she decided to begin training for one more big swim.”

    Her body has changed over that time period. “"I'm 15 pounds heavier than I was," she told NPR's Allen. "I used to feel more like a thoroughbred racehorse." With another laugh, she says, "Now I feel more like a Clydesdale." However, she believes that is fitter now than she was in 1978, when she first attempted the crossing from Havana to Florida.

    To reach that level of fitness, Nyad committed to a regular workout schedule, but one that she had to make up. According to ESPNW, Nyad wasn’t able to learn from previous swimmers since no one had undertaken such a feat. "You've got to remember there's no roadmap for this kind of thing,” said Mark Sollinger, a member of Nyad’s team. “She's writing the roadmap. It's not like we can go to some body of information and say this is what we need to do. Not only was she training, she was her own guinea pig at the same time." Nyad started working out in secret prior to announcing her decision to try the Cuba-to-Florida swim again. She started slowly getting back into the pool and started increasing the length of her swims. Eventually, she successfully swam for 6.5 hours in the ocean off of Mexico, which helped her make up her mind that she could be successful.

    Nyad also initially cross-trained.  “At the height of her land training, up until about January, she'd do 100 burpees a day: a perfect-form military-style push-up paired with a vertical jump to engage and strengthen just about every muscle in her body,” ESPN-W stated. “Early on she would bike 100 miles every Friday, but by April it was time to put the bike away. Too much of virtually any form of cardio other than swimming builds the legs too much -- counterproductive when you're trying to be as buoyant as possible over some 60-odd hours of swimming.” Nyad then started doing swims of up to 15 hours during the winter and spring in St. Maarten.

  • Even though Diana didn’t make it all the way to Florida, I think she reached her goal of making people take a hard look at what people can do as they age. Her website states, “For decades, Diana has been at the heart and soul of the baby boom generation, many of whom are feeling irrelevant, lacking in vitality, and dejected that their best days are behind them. This summer, the imagination of the American public will once again catch fire. The authentic message, the walk that Diana walks, will resonate with millions of baby boomers looking for renewal, parents hoping their children spark to inspired lives, and women searching for proof that middle age is their prime, not the beginning of the end.” 

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    Although I don't plan on committing to her extreme training regimen, Nyad's efforts will cause me to revisit just exactly what I can accomplish -- and realize that many of the can'ts that I cite are self-imposed. And for that, I say thanks!

Published On: August 31, 2011