Diana Nyad shared some of her most thrilling successes and agonizing defeats at the NAR Conference in Boston earlier this month. She also described some of the motivational “secrets” that kept her going, even in failure.
Leading up to the fifth and final attempt to swim across the treacherous waters between Cuba and Key West, she told of heartfelt letters she received from national news producers, explaining why they weren’t going to cover her journey this time, through shark- and poisonous jellyfish-infested waters, that churned from the force of unpredictable winds.
The takeaway from her inspiring story for many of the attendees in the auditorium: “Never give up.”
Before the conference, Nyad gave an interview to Realtormag.com:
If you’ve ever been stuck in the deep end, facing overwhelming obstacles in business or in life, it’s worth paying attention to Diana Nyad. In 2013, the competitive swimmer, then 64, braved violent ocean currents, 12-foot waves, and jellyfish stings to become the first person to complete the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. Her fifth attempt—35 years in the making—was the charm. And it wasn’t the only significant challenge she had faced. As a survivor of sexual abuse when she was in grade school, Nyad has been candid about overcoming unthinkable struggles.
Why was such a risky swim your lifelong goal?
I grew up in Little Havana (Miami, FL) where, in the 1950s, it was flooded with Cuban immigrants. Because of the historically tense relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, it has been this forbidden shore. As a little swimmer at the age of 9, I used to stand on the beach with my mother, looking for the Cuban shoreline. She’d tell me, ‘It’s right there over the horizon—you could almost swim there.’ For me, it was about connecting to this forbidden land. I wanted to symbolically bridge these two divided countries.
What motivated you to keep trying after each failed attempt?
The basic trait that makes us successful, that makes us feel we’re doing the most with our lives, is persistence. We all get knocked down by bad timing, competition, or unfortunate circumstances, and those of us who get back up—we’re the ones who wind up standing on the other side. You need resolve. Each time I jumped off those rocks and into the water, I thoroughly believed I was going to make it across. Each time I failed, it was devastating, but I was never ready to give up.
After a major accomplishment, how do you keep up the momentum?
I’m 69 now, and I have a lot of energy and a lot more people to inspire. I remember when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, he pulled it out of his pocket and admired it for a minute, saying, “Look at this beautiful, sleek device.” Then he put it back in and said, “I better not keep staring at this piece of eye candy so I can get to work on the next one.” My motto is “onward,” and I write that at the end of all my letters, emails, and blogs.
What have you learned about overcoming trauma?
When I meet someone who’s been through the Holocaust and listen to the stories of unspeakable atrocities they went through, it reminds me of what I have more than what I don’t. It’s no picnic to go through sexual abuse. I’m allowed to have some rage about it, but then I focus on what I have—and that list is long. You have this precious life to live. You should go to bed at night feeling like you threw everything at making your day worthwhile.