Diana Nyad’s glory is not in her 110-mile swim but in the achievement of her 30-year dream

It would be a disservice to Nyad to confuse her achievement with the increasingly humdrum willingness to risk life and limb. Any idiot can do a bungee jump

Share

It was fifth time lucky for Diana Nyad, pictured. The 64-year-old achieved a life-long ambition this week when she became the first person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.

The challenges of her 53-hour marathon included dehydration, sunburn and bruising from the silicone face mask she wore as protection against the dastardly jellyfish which put paid to two previous attempts.

Nyad’s achievement has been variously described as “historic”, “marvellous” and “inspiring”. Those who watched her swim on TV from the comfort of their sofas might also add “baffling” to that list, and none of these adjectives quite explains what we find so impressive about such feats of derring-do.

If you’re out to prove something to yourself about something or other, there have never been so many ways to do it. The standard marathon has been superseded by “extreme” marathons involving high altitudes and temperatures exceeding 35C. Or there are charity bungee jumps, like the one in which a Staffordshire pub landlord broke his ankle last week. Meanwhile, mountain rescue teams all over the UK are reporting an increase in call-outs, as more ordinary folk remember to leave their comfort zone, but forget to bring a map.

We do Nyad a disservice, however, if we confuse her achievement with this increasingly humdrum willingness to risk life and limb. The international media may have only started paying attention in the past 53 hours, but it’s in the three decades previous that Nyad exhibited her defining quality – a dedication that’s the very opposite of reckless.

She made her first attempt at the swim in 1978 aged 28 and has been trying again, failing again and failing better ever since. Nyad has been keen to point out that while ‘The Old Woman and The Sea' might seem like the ultimate story of individual struggle, it’s always involved other people too. There are the over-60s she set out to inspire by proving “it’s never too late to start your dreams” and the team of 35 she collected along the way, individuals who have been as committed to achieving her goal as she was.

The fact that this goal was “pointless” is sort of the point. Swimming from Cuba to Florida is not the kind of achievement most people include in their Things To Do Before You Turn 64 bucket list. It won’t help pay off the mortgage or get a promotion at work or even improve family life and that’s what makes it so inspiring. Diana Nyad’s single-minded dedication reminds us of how many other exciting things beyond the narrow definitions of success might be done in a lifetime. You just wake up one morning and decide you’re going to do it. And then, some 30 years later, eventually you do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future