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2018 NBOA Annual Meeting: Navigating Choppy Waters: Diana Nyad

By Net Assets posted 01-22-2018 02:48 PM


Leadership |

For business officers pursuing big goals, Leadership Awards Lunch speaker and world-class swimmer Diana Nyad models the power of will.

From the January/February 2018 Net Assets magazine

Since coming to fame in 1975 for her record-breaking swim around Manhattan Island, Diana Nyad has defied the odds repeatedly. In 2013, at age 64 and on her fifth attempt, she became the first person to make the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, overcoming powerful currents and venomous jellyfish stings along the way. Besides her many triumphs in the water, Nyad has also worked as a radio and television sports broadcaster and written four books, including her 2015 memoir, “Find a Way.” The following passages are excerpted and adapted from that book.

Work for the Pride, Not for the Prize

The Manhattan Island swim was a kick in the pants. I wound up on the front page of the New York Times the next day plus a booking to talk with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. It was fun, to be sure, the public attention and media interest. But I was grounded enough even at that young age [25] to realize that it’s the fundamental challenge that motivates an athlete, not what we might get from success. Even the highest profile athletes who make multiples of millions, who ensure their contracts protect their futures, they practice and compete for pride; they play with character. Those are the values that drive them to be winners, most of them.

Worthy Goals Can Inspire Incredible Turnarounds

The body faced a daunting load of work. Yet the high road of commitment had me wild-eyed.

[After not swimming at all for three decades,] I started swimming in a friend’s country club pool, August 2009, the month I turned 60. Those first few days were a rude awakening. I was slogging along… By November I was going six and seven hours at a stretch. Most days, I would barely make it from the pool to my car after the workout. It was beyond falling asleep; it was passing out, slumped at the wheel in the parking lot for a couple hours before I could get it together and drive home. The body faced a daunting load of work. Yet the high road of commitment had me wild-eyed. This was going to take unknown physical dedication and emotional courage… It didn’t matter if the public didn’t wind up caring. The dream of crossing from Cuba to Florida stirred my soul. This swim was the stuff of building character of granite. I had better steel my will.

Cultivate Smart Ambition

The person gutsy enough to go out there five times has a much better chance of getting it all going her way than the ones who pack it up at the first defeat.

I am more consummate professional than fool. This is not blind ambition. I wouldn’t come at [the Cuba-to-Florida swim for a fifth attempt] if I didn’t intend to bring more to it this time. There is more jellyfish protection to innovate. There is more knowledge of swirling eddies to discover. Nobody would criticize me for calling it quits after four valiant tries, but I weigh sitting at home and wondering the rest of my life if I could in fact have brought new layers of expertise to the mission, as opposed to trying again, maybe not making it a fifth time, entirely at peace that I did bring better protocols to the effort. At peace that I didn’t give up…. I am convinced that the person gutsy enough to go out there five times has a much better chance of getting it all going her way than the ones who pack it up at the first defeat.

Defy Blanket Limitations

A woman asked me after a speech I gave in Cuba how I could train at this level, with the normal aches and pains that come at my age. I answered, “Don’t put your assumptions of what one is supposed to feel at my age on me. I defy those suppositions of limitations. If you feel aches and pains, say so. But I don’t, and I refuse to follow anybody’s controlling parameters.” … I am simply unwilling to accept blanket limits about the ceiling of performance. Not any one of us knows the power of the human spirit.

Focus on the Moment

[While swimming,] I’m not apprised of the navigation progress. The cardinal rule is that nobody ever tells me where we are. So many variables are in play, from fickle and sudden weather to swirling eddies to animals to my own frailties. Just because I’ve been covering 50 miles at a certain speed doesn’t mean I’m going to replicate that progress the next 50 miles. I never look forward and up. All I’d see is a vast, depressing horizon. Better I should engage in the moment, just keep working, turning my head like a programmed robot, 52 times a minute, toward my team’s boat.

The More Harrowing the Journey, the Greater the Reward

Swimming in those last few minutes, I am stunned. The moment sweeps me up and folds me into its intensity, and I have no words at all. Just emotions. Exploding emotions. And then, from some unconscious well of truth, words do flow. They speak the messages I authentically carried with me all the way across, all the way through the years of the endeavor: “One: Never, ever give up. Two: You’re never too old to chase your dreams. Three: It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

… My heart was bursting with joy and relief to stand on solid sand, after not only those 53 hours [of swimming] but the hundreds of tough hours it took to arrive at the dream’s destination. In the end it was the journey that inspired. Had the journey not been extended over 35 years, had we not suffered through failures and risen to cutting-edge solutions, had I not almost died from box [jellyfish] stings, had these special people not traveled this journey with me, this final scene wouldn’t have presented itself as the Homeric journey’s end it became to me, my team and the public at large. It’s all about the journey.

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