Last night I went to the movies with a couple of friends to watch the newly released Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot. It was perfect! Wonder Woman spoke her mind, stood up to men, fought on the front-line, asked questions, made mistakes, lost battles, won battles, learned from mistakes, experienced failure, was relentless in pursuit of success, cracked jokes, had issues choosing an outfit and was generally everything that a woman can and should be. As a 20-something-year-old woman, I was inspired.
Here we are the following morning and a new story has came to my attention. This is the story of Diana Nyad, the woman who never gave up in pursuit of sporting greatness!
Whether you have a keen interest in sport and sporting achievement or not is truly irrelevant here. This one’s for everyone, and the world should know her story.
Diana Nyad came to the public eye last month following the publication of her award winning book, “Find a Way“. At the end of May this year her book picked up the top prize as the International Biography of the Year, and i’m not surprised; her story is triumphant.
Nyad is a swimmer by trade, and as a teenager the young Diana was introduced to the world of marathon swimming. She broke records; in her first-ever race she broke the women’s 10-mile record completing the feat in 4 hours and 22 minutes. She swam the Bay of Naples, without a wet-suit for some 28-miles!! It wouldn’t be me, but each to their own.
Despite the records Nyad’s dream was always to complete a swim from Cuba to Florida. The water was infested by dangerous sea creatures, including sharks and jelly-fish but she did it anyway. In fact, she did it five times!!
The swimmer made her first attempt as a 28-year old in 1978; she completed the journey at the fifth attempt as a 64-year old in 2013.
The first attempt was halted by strong winds and high swells, and after 42 hours covering 79 miles she was forced to retreat. A devastated Nyad, broken by her failure, never swam another stroke for thirty years.
33 years after her first attempt Nyad vowed, just days before her 62nd birthday, that she would have another go at the 110-mile crossing. She wished to “prove to other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams.”
Shoulder pain and asthma attacks meant the trip had to be abandoned once again.
This didn’t stop her.
A month later she was back in the water. But 41 hours into her journey the brave Nyad was forced to stop due to severe jellyfish stings.
Another one bites the dust.
Again, it wouldn’t stop her.
2012, the fourth attempt. The furthest she had ever ventured but again jellyfish and storms would stop her from crossing her finish line.
Many people would have stopped at the first hurdle, never mind the fourth, but there she was again; standing on the shores of Cuba ready to find a way.
And she did.
On the 2nd September 2013, Nyad reached the shores of Florida. As she stepped out of the water, exhausted and victorious, she gave the crowd awaiting her arrival a piece of advice:
“Never, ever give up…You’re never too old to chase your dreams”
It’s never too late, you’re never not ready.
Wonder Woman, as genuine as her representation was, doesn’t flip off horseback, knee-slide into Nazi’s and jump from buildings; or maybe she does. Maybe we can. But this Wonder Woman, another one, she swims across the Gulf of Mexico in shark-infested water. She does this five times until she succeeds.
Nyad’s story highlights exactly why sport is so important while simultaneously justifying the ways in which it can lose it’s importance.
It may be pertinent to say that we have become far too obsessed with material gain. Modern sport has become too focused on collecting as many golden nuggets as possible by the end of the quadrennial fair. But this obsession pulls funding from athletes who are trying, just as Nyad did, to achieve a dream. This obsession can be damaging. Not everyone will stand on a podium but everyone has a dream, and you can achieve it.
Nyad did not swim from Havanna to Key West for Olympic Gold, nor did she do so with the support or finance of a billion-dollar training programme. Rather she did it because she wanted to achieve a dream.
Sport is important because it pushes people beyond their limit. It brings out the best and worst human emotions and experiences. Experiences that bring us together. Lessons that we can learn. Losses that we must humbly accept, and victory that we must gratefully receive.
Sport has the ability to do this in a way that few other things in the world are capable of doing.
Similarly, if sport isn’t for you – find your dream, define success and achieve it.
Keep going until you find a way. Just as Nyad did.
Finding a way is universally applied to everyone, in every place, in every creed, in every colour, in every gender.
You keep going, you never give up and you are rewarded with a prize so enormous it can’t be bought. The prize of self-fulfillment. The only thing limiting you is your decision to give up.
It’s never too late, you’re never not ready. Believe in yourself.
ONES TO WATCH