Bad-A** Female Athlete: Diana Nyad

October 20, 2013

By now, you’ve seen the headlines - a woman successfully swam the choppy waters from Cuba to Florida. At any age, this would be quite a feat but, for a woman in her 60s, it’s absolutely bad-a**!

Diana Nyad began swimming competitively in seventh grade.  In the mid-1960s, she enrolled at Pine Crest School where she was coached by Olympian, Jack Nelson.  After winning several Florida state high school championships, it seemed as though her dream of competing in the 1968 Summer Olympics would become a reality.  Unfortunately, she contracted endocarditis (an infection of the heart) and, after three months of bed-rest, she lost speed and was never able to regain her former pace. Ever adventurous, Nyad was later expelled from Emory University for jumping from a fourth-floor dormitory window wearing a parachute that, in the long run, may have been a good thing. After enrolling at Lake Forest College in Illinois, she began swimming again with a focus on marathon events.  Under the direction of Buck Dawson, the director of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, she set a women’s world record in her first race. Upon graduation, she returned to Florida where she continued to train with Dawson. diana nyad 2  

Beginning in 1974, Nyad launched her distance-swimming career that included her 28-mile trek around Manhattan in just under 8 hours and her first attempt to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.  After swimming inside of a shark cage for 42 hours, doctors removed Nyad from the water due to strong winds. An amazing 32 years later, Nyad decided to try the Cuba-Florida swim again in 2010.  When asked why she was resuming this attempt, she said: "Because I'd like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams."  It was extremely disappointing, therefore, when bad weather forced her to cancel the swim. The following year, determined to accomplish her goal, Nyad bulked up an extra 15 pounds to help counter the loss of any body mass during the swim and, on August 7, 2011, she entered the water without a shark cage, opting instead for electronic “shark shields.”  After 29 hours in the water, she stopped her quest when strong winds continued to push her off course and her asthma flared up.  She tried again a month later but had to give up due to being repeatedly stung by jellyfish.  A fourth attempt in 2012, ended similarly. Finally, on August 31, 2013, Diana Nyad began her fifth attempt to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida and, wearing a silicone mask, full bodysuit, gloves, booties and no shark cage, she was able to complete the amazing feat. She never gave up! Along with her best friend, Bonnie Stoll, Nyad founded BravaBody, a company that provides online fitness tips to women over 40.  She was inducted into the United States National Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. By Jeanne Dupuis. Image Credit:

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