What would happen if Diana Nyad (best swimmer name ever), the 63-year-old endurance swimmer who is making a fourth attempt to swim the 103 miles of shark-attack warm water from Florida to Cuba, were confronted with a hungry shark mid-stroke? Ha! Trick question — sharks know not to fuck with the broad-shouldered Nyad and therefore give her a wide berth every time she makes a break for Cuba.
Out.com's Shana Naomi Krochmal wrote an awesome longform profile of Nyad, who will make a fourth attempt later this summer to brave the churning ocean of deadly creatures between Florida and Cuba. Nyad first attempted the elusive crossing three decades ago, and again last summer when her two attempts were thwarted by an allergic reaction to pain medication she had taken for her ailing shoulder, and then by a potentially lethal box jellyfish attack. At 63, Nyad will try one more time to accomplish what she calls her "Xtreme Dream," and then, if she can harness her competitive ego, she'll hopefully put that dream to rest once and for all. She says,
There's something of that still left in me that has a competitive ego. I could care less if this swim becomes a new world record or if my goggles are in the Smithsonian Institution. I'm sure if all those things happen, I'll be honored. And I surely don't want the disappointment of not making it. I don't want this to be a failure. It's been too long and too hard, and I can't do it again.
Nyad's training regimen is predictably Olympian — in order to prepare for the Florida-to-Cuba undertaking, she's been swimming six hours a day at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena. Then, just to make people with a healthy fear of the ocean extra nervous, she does ocean training from eight to ten hours at a stretch. When Krochmal interviewed her in May, Nyad was swimming 12 to 16 hours at a stretch, which was so draining that she'd have to be lifted out of the water like a baby otter (fun fact: baby otters don't instinctively know how to swim) and swaddled in towels so that her body could purge itself of all the salt it had absorbed.
After an peripatetic child during which she was shuttled around Europe by a passive mother and a "desperately immoral" (though incredibly charming) father, Nyad wound up in Florida in 1959, where she started to dream about the forbidden island across the ocean while becoming a high school swimming star. (Her mother, meanwhile, encouraged her to play tennis.) Nyad, though, stoked her ocean-swimming exploits with the smoldering rage of being systematically abused by her coach. Her anger pushed her to break swimming records and, when Nyad eventually quit swimming, she achieved some celebrity with TV appearances and, most notably, a regular column on NPR (she also did graduate work in comparative literature at NYU on her way towards a master's degree).
When she was 21, Nyad finally discovered that she was a lesbian after journeying from New York to Ann Arbor for a friend's birthday and promptly sleeping with three women. "I didn't have any sexuality," she said, by way of explaining the fateful night. "I just knew I didn't want to be with men. But I thought it was all just because of the trauma — you never know, but I think I was gay from day one." These experiences helped define her and slowly nudge her, over the course of three decades, back to her quixotic goal to swim to Cuba, an expensive goal she's funded largely through her work as a motivational speaker. Nyad had to recruit a 35-member support staff, comprised of medical advisors, nutritionists, oceanographers, and meteorologists, a preliminary undertaking that presents yet more proof that her swim is incredibly taxing.
Still, she believes that having the goal — even if it's never achieved — has defined her and helped channel some of the residual anger she has over her childhood abuse (Nyad is working with Joshua Ravetch on a one-woman theatrical staging of her motivational talks about what she calls an "epidemic" of sexual abuse). After this next attempt, Nyad insists that she isn't going to swim anywhere again. "I want to live like this," she says, even if "like this" means experiencing all of the unseen horrors Pip worried about while treading open water in Moby Dick. Stay tuned to Nyad's nail-biting swim later this summer, and, though I'm sure she's already thought this through and scheduled accordingly, let's all hope her attempt doesn't coincide with Shark Week, since that just seems like the worst omen ever.
The Swimmer [Out]