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
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine November 2011

For two years, Nyad had envisioned herself walking up the beach in Key West. It had been so real in her mind’s eye that she was certain it would happen, and in the aftermath of the attempt, the disappointment was keen.

“This was my time, but it wasn’t my day,” says Nyad. “I have nothing to hang my head about in terms of the effort I gave, but it is heart-wrenching.”

And inspiring, for those who watched her fight. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” says Mark Sollinger, who piloted Nyad’s lead boat. “She just wouldn’t quit. It was more amazing to see her not make it the way she fought than if everything had gone exactly right and she’d made it the whole way.”

At a press conference in Key West less than 12 hours after being pulled — half-dead and devastated — onto the support boat, Nyad choked back tears and said, “Sometimes the will is so strong. That’s the whole point of this sport — that the mind is stronger than the body. But I was shaking and freezing, and I thought, ‘There’s no mind over matter anymore.’ I think I’m going to have to go to my grave without swimming from Cuba to Florida.”

But when Nyad returned home to Los Angeles, the pain began to fade. In its place, a familiar ambition crept in; the mystique of that fickle 103 miles of water sandwiched between Cuba’s rocky coast and Florida’s sands still beckoned, even as she celebrated her 62nd birthday.

“Something says to me the goal is still there,” says Nyad. “The big fairy tale is [still] there.”

Also: Watch an exclusive video of Diana Nyad before her attempted swim.

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