Endurance swimmer and author Diana Nyad will be the keynote speaker at the Heart of Florida United Way’s 9th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon. Nyad is the first long-distance swimmer to successfully complete the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage at 64 years old, a feat she had attempted unsuccessfully four times before.
Nyad will speak about her journey across the ocean with her team, sharing her message of fulfilling a lifelong dream, which she also recounted in her memoir titled “Find a Way.”
Here is a snippet of our interview with Nyad to give you an idea of what to expect:
What inspired you to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage?
It was a lifelong dream. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, and we had a huge mystic about that forbidden land that was so close to us and so far. Cuba, to me, was not just another athletic event, not just another athletic achievement. It was about living large and chasing a star. It’s sort of a confluence of Mother Nature out there. It’s a wilderness that’s vast, that’s dangerous, and there is not a more difficult set of obstacles for a swimmer than the swim from Cuba to Florida. Always – when I was younger, when I was older – Cuba always represented being everything I could be, tapping every ounce of potential, and the same for everyone around me. For me, no story touched my soul like that distance between Havana and the Florida Keys.
Did your unsuccessful attempts ever deter you?
I was never deterred. I was humbled many times – brought to my knees, frightened, almost died from the box jellyfish, but never ever deterred. A resolve ran deep. I believed even after 35 years of chasing that dream. I believed an unwavering belief that one day, we would swim all the way across and we would touch that other shore.
What was your first thought when you made it on Sept. 2, 2013?
I have to admit, in all those years of long, grueling training … on a lot of those long swims I went through an ego exercise. What poetry would I come up with when I finally reached that shore after all those years and all those disappointments? Those first, stumbling steps, I was dazed emotionally. So much had gone into it and the relief was so overwhelming to have finally gotten there. The pride of me and my team not so much making it, but not giving up on it, was overwhelming. I’ve seen the video of when I reached the shore; I’ve heard the words. They came from some automatic, non-rehearsed phrase. The first words I uttered were emotional, people were weeping. The words were, “Never give up.” I think that is really what has touched people and what has meant the most to me in my own life. It’s not about swimming; it’s not about sports. We all go through heartache. We all have dreams, and we want to chase those dreams. All we need is to not give up on them. You get knocked down, disappointed, turned back, but you keep going and don’t quit, and one day you arrive at your other shore, whatever that shore may be.
And that is what Nyad hopes luncheon attendees will take away from their moment together – that message of not giving up.
What: 9th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon
When: March 17, 2016
Where: Rosen Centre Hotel
Cost: $85 per person, $1,500 for corporate table of 10