The Unsinkable Diana Nyad

At 61, Diana Nyad attempted to swim 103 miles against three-foot waves, the threat of sharks, and her own demons. A Reader's Digest Exclusive.

By Todd Pitock from original
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine November 2011

She may have been out of the water for the next three decades, but Nyad didn’t stray far from adventure. During the 1980s and 1990s, Nyad was an announcer for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, covering three Olympic Games. She wrote a memoir, a fitness training guide for women, and a biography of an NFL player; she delivered dozens of motivational speeches and wrote for the New York Times and Newsweek. In 2001, Nyad became a contributor to The Savvy Traveler program on Minnesota Public Radio, making trips to Borneo, Bali, and dozens of other countries.

Four years later, Nyad and longtime friend Bonnie Stoll, a former professional racquetball player, founded bravabody.com, a website devoted to providing exercise advice to women over 40.

“Too many women we know are ashamed of their bodies,” the pair wrote on the site. “We intend to lead our generation into the empowerment of feeling strong, free, and confident in every aspect of our lives.”

For Nyad, the company’s mission statement took on new meaning in 2010 when she announced she’d be attempting the Cuba swim again.

“The Straits of Florida has always loomed in my imagination,” Nyad said in June. “Growing up in Florida, I felt that Cuba has always had a mystique.”

And though she had lost some of her sleekness and speed, she believed when she announced her rematch with the Cuba swim that her age offered advantages for pushing through the rigors of a 60-hour swim.

“Physically, I’m stronger. I weigh a lot more,” Nyad said after a training swim in Key West in June. “I was a fine Thoroughbred back then. Now I’m a Clydesdale. I power through, and nothing can get in my way.”

There are also mental advantages to being older, says Steven Munatones, an expert in open-water swimming. “What you lose in strength and speed, you gain in focus and emotional resilience, which is something you need when you’re swimming facedown in darkness for hours on end,” says Munatones.

The second time around, the Cuba swim was about more than just setting another record — it was also about resilience with age.

“I hope older people will say, ‘I want to live life like that at this age,’” Nyad said. “Our parents’ generation considered 60 old age. I’m in the middle of middle age.”

The 30-year delay helped Nyad move past the anger that fueled her as a younger woman. “I don’t look back on my youth and say ‘What a tragedy,’ ” says Nyad. “You don’t ever get over that life sentence [of dealing with abuse], but I’ve reinvented myself to be happy, to take the tiger by the tail.”

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