June 29th, 2010
04:47 PM ET

Diana Nyad chases a dream

If the name Diana Nyad sounds familiar, it's probably because you've heard of her incredible feats of human performance. Before there was Lance Armstrong, before there was Michael Phelps there was Diana Nyad. (Watch Video)

Marathon swimmer Diana Nyad showing off the headlines from her world record setting swim

When you meet Diana, you can instantly tell there's something different about her.  If you spend 5 minutes with her - better yet, if you watch this 60 year old swim - you'll be able to tell you're in the presence of an amazing athlete.

In the 1970s, she was unstoppable. In addition to winning multiple swimming marathons, she was the first woman ever to encircle the island of Manhattan, and she holds the World's record for longest ocean swim – 102.5 miles from the island of Bimini in the Bahamas to Jupiter, FL. But there was one goal that eluded her.

"About a year ago now, I'm turning 60," she said, "and I thought 'what have I done with my life? What haven't I done with my life?' I started thinking, you know what, Diana? You've got to get real with life's lessons; one of which is you can't go back."

But a chance sighting of her own, 60-year-old face in the rearview mirror – a very ironic coincidence – changed her outlook completely.

"I caught my eyes, and I thought 'wait a second! There's one thing you actually can go back for,' and that's the dream swim which was Cuba to Florida."

And now, 30 years after her last competitive stroke, she will take to the waters of the Gulf Stream once again to attempt the 103-mile swim.

She made her first attempt in 1978.

"I remember, I got down to the shore with my 6 handlers. We're looking out at a raging sea of whitecaps." Diana says her navigator assured her that the seas calmed down almost to the serenity of a skating pond, just a few miles out. Unsure, she took his word for it, and dove in.

"If you're on the Everest team that's on the penultimate climb, and a storm comes in, you don't say 'what the heck, we're going anyway," she said. "In this swim, we just said 'what the heck, we're going anyway."

41 hours and 49 minutes later, Diana's team was pulling her out of the sea – battered, delerious, ravaged by jellyfish, scarred by the salt water; and only 50 miles from where she had started. That left her almost 60 miles from her intended landing spot.

Almost 32 years later to the day, she'll be facing that same mission, but this time, she says she's ready.

"It's daunting, I will admit to you that I'm scared to death," Diana said, in a rare moment of self-doubt, "but in other ways, I'm very confident."  She continues, "I've left no stone unturned in training, I follow that oil spill every single minute, I look at the weather, I look at my team, I look at shark devices, so I'm ready."

Speaking of sharks, Diana is attempting the swim without a physical shark cage, and is relying on an electronic shark repellant device, and a team of divers to keep the dangerous fish away from her.

It seemed as though she had thought of everything.  But why do it?

"I would be lying if I said I'd just been stewing over this for 30 years. I really haven't," she says. "The issue here isn't as much about making that big athletic dream. Really bigger than that is this existential grappling about being 60."

She went on to paint a picture of 60-year-olds "back in the day" as old people - wrinkled, shriveled up and discarded by society.

"Look at 60-year-olds today. They're not old, and I'm not old. I'm older than I was, yes. I'm slower than I was, but I'm still vital and I'm still powerful, and when I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say 'I'm going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I'm going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I'm going to adopt a child. It's not too late, I can still live my dreams.'"

Editor's note: CNN Medical will be reporting on Diana Nyad's 24 hour Key West swim next month and her attempt to swim to Cuba in August.


soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. Someone Somewhere

    I hope she makes it. At least she has a goal in her life, unlike a lot of folks these days. I will follow this story till she's either gone or done!!! GOOD LUCK!!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Tukker

    Why doesnt she swims in a cage behind the boat? I have seen people doing that several times for long distance swimming, it at least will keep the sharks away from attacking her.

    June 29, 2010 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Hopster

    She should have no problem with sharks, jellyfish, or other marine life. BP took care of that for her.

    June 29, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sar


    June 29, 2010 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bill

    Dead woman floating....

    June 29, 2010 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. chele

    I think she's pretty cool and ballsy to try this. I'm very impressed. To hell with the naysayers.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dingleberry

    Im going to chum her route>:>

    June 29, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Miles

    I could understand this if she made it in her previous attempt, but she didn't even make it half way!!! That was in her prime and now she wants to make another go at it as an old hag in oil soaked seas??? Anyone who is commenting on this being a good idea is a moron. You probably thought that young girl sailing around the world was smart too.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Brian

    Diana – I recognized your name from when you came to speak at my Elementary School with your nephew, Tim, back in the 80's. You must be very proud of him being one of the videographers on Whale Wars! I can tell that your positive attitude rubbed off on him! Best of luck, and go get 'em!

    June 29, 2010 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. KKinsey

    Diana – I wish you the nest of luck. I admire your go for it attitude. We each decide what challenges we want to address on a daily basis. As the comments here show "going for it" probably consists of getting up to grab another soda for many people. They will die as bitter as they live. It's really such a shame

    PS – those of you who keep claiming the oil slick is going to be an issue, try looking at a map to see where it is as compared to where she will swim before you make yourselves look any dumber.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. eric

    Um, Did they say sharks, electronic shark repellent, shark divers, jelly fish, oil spill, white caps, etc. Crazy, brave, exciting. Best of luck grandma.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. badianbard

    Good for you, Diana! You Go Girl

    June 29, 2010 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Sue

    Uuuhh! Have any of you ever swam in Cuban water? Bbbbrrr!!

    June 29, 2010 at 21:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. MarkB

    I agree with most of what she said, except the part about adopting a child. My dad was very old when I was born. If you defy statistics you live to see your child graduate from high school. Big whoop. My dad lived to 89 and still was gone way before I was ready to live without him. Having children at an old age is arrogant and is not in the best interest of the child.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Steven Holloway

    Her ego is as live and well as it was in 1978 . to bad that alone will not allow her to complete this swim. Please CNN ,Do not give her a month of on air time leading upto this attempt.

    June 29, 2010 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. johnO

    It appears that Diana’s attempt at this new adventure is striking a nerve with all you insecure tough guy, hard core, armchair limp dic**. Personally, I don’t have a dog in this game; however it’s comical to watch the comments on organ donation and CNN issues… As a man it’s sad to see all of your responses.
    So, to all you SEAL wannabe dudes with latent, suppressed testosterone poisoning. Diana at 60 is capable of kicking ass on 99%+ of the USA’s male populous. In 79’ I was a young, strong, hard core safety swimmer. I had the pleasure of accompanying Diana on her successful Bimini/Jupiter Florida swim. No swimmer has duplicated, or completed the Bahama/Florida swim before or after this attempt. We were in the ocean for twenty eight (28)+ hours of intense non-stop swimming. At the time I could swim farther than anyone I knew could run or walk. Diana kicked my ass on this swim; she was a machine in the water. Diana is the in the top .01% of her class, just watch what she does on this historic adventure. If she has the right sea conditions, and right safety personnel/swimmers to assist, she’ll do it. We need to wish her some luck on this one.

    June 30, 2010 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • robert

      right on john o------i know diana too---she will make it this time--–and with any luck some of us will be there to greet her

      June 30, 2010 at 08:58 | Report abuse |
  17. silvershado

    Well, so far only Susie Mahoney has done it. 1997

    June 30, 2010 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jan Michaelis Bilthouse

    All of the DDY Aquabears (1965-1972) will be rooting for you!!! We had a hige reunion with Tommy Jahn and Fritts last summer, and could not get to you!! maybe a road trip is in order for the AQUABEARS to cheer you on!!

    June 30, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jan Michaelis Bilthouse

    Diana ...all of the DDY Aquabears (1965-1972) wish you luck, and are routing for you! we had a huge reunion last summer with Tommy Jahn and Fitts...maybe this calls for an AQUABEAR road trip to cheer you on!

    June 30, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. HHinson

    GO DIANA!!!!! Smooth seas, girl, and may you win your dream!

    June 30, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. HHinson

    "Suicide"??? That's what people said to Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, John Glenn, Columbus and Lewis & Clark.

    It's her life, and I hope it's her glory.

    June 30, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Korey

    Best of Luck, Diana. As a teenager, I cheered for you in your first attempt. My kids and I will cheer for you on this one too! Most of the people commenting probably don't understand just how difficult it is to swim one mile in a swimming pool. To be able to swim in the ocean with all sorts of obstacles and hardships is quite remarkable. I wish you the best.

    June 30, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. blondannas

    Diana! I have missed you since you left San Francisco. You go, girl! Age has nothing to do with it. 60 is the new 35 and you are the one person who is qualified to do this. We'll be cheering you on in the Bay Area.

    June 30, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. otto

    I'm not sure but I think Nyad is now 60 years old. I think this story holds a record for the most use of the number 60.

    June 30, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. cate davis

    Good Luck, Dianna.....I was a freshman on Michigan State's Swim Team when you were doing graduate work @ MSU, and training with both the men's and women's teams. You were an inspiration then, as well as now. Godspeed.

    June 30, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. PiercedPsycho

    Am I the only one who noticed the irony of her last name?

    Nyad, naeid.....

    June 30, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. April

    Hi Diana, I am so happy for you in fullfilling your dream. I want to send you a big hug and a big smile. My dreams are my Big Five for Life Goals and you are an inspiration to me. I want to look at you when you walk up on that shore in Florida.

    All the best to you.

    June 30, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. April

    Hi Diana, I am so happy for you in fullfilling your dream. I want to send you a big hug and a big smile. My dreams are my Big Five for Life Goals and you are an inspiration to me. I want to look at you when you walk up on that shore in Florida.

    All the best to you.

    June 30, 2010 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Morty Berger

    how long does this take to post – i would expect CNN to fact check it stories.

    July 4, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Morty Berger

    Please post this Correction:

    As head of NYC Swim, the organizer of the Manhattan Island Marathon for the last 17 years, and in the In the interest of historical accuracy, we wanted to correct the record about swims around Manhattan, as some misinformation has circulated as a result of erroneous claims.

    Diana Nyad's 1975 swim around the island was not a first. Rather, it was nearly 60 years after that of the first woman to accomplish the feat, Ida Elinosky in 11 hours, 35 minutes (1916). In the intervening years, more than a half-dozen other women also completed the swim, with Anne Priller (Benoit) dropping the women's record to 9:01 in 1930. Sam Shields set a men's record (8:35) that year as well.

    Nyad's 1975 effort, 45 years after Shields set the record, followed a dry spell, so to speak, when pollution and other factors limited swimming around Manhattan, and her time of 7:57 set the mark for both women and men.. Since then, more than 600 swimmers have circled the island, and the overall record is still held by a woman. Shelley Taylor-Smith of Australia set the mark of 5:45:25 in 1995.

    July 6, 2010 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. JJ Shag

    The GLBT community is proud of Nyad, was one of the first gay/lesbian athletic heroes back in the 70's. I wouldn't bet against her with her increased wisdom and the increased sophistication in all the technologies that would contribute to a successful outcome.

    July 6, 2010 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Yuichi Yoshimoto

    I rarely watch CNN, but got lucky with Diana Nyad's super story. Diana is hope, strength and a model for myriads of admirers around the world. Oh God, what wouldn't I give to hold her hands in mine and kiss them with tears. You're in my heart, Nyad, and my love and prayers with you with every stroke you 'land' in the lucky waters embracing you.
    Your big heart makes thousands others beat with direction, determination and motivation. Swim, baby, swim!

    July 16, 2010 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. morris

    wow O wow i can say that i will be all in for her to make it.. the drive and non stop you have to do this is just insane. hope she makes it so the bar can get set higher.......GB.........

    July 28, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Hi I just discovered this forum on Google. Just wanted to introduce myself and commend the admin's representing a forum proficiently done!

    Looking forward to participating here,
    Rebecca 🙂

    August 8, 2010 at 06:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Guest10

    This is not amazing... a former olympic swimmer who I'm sure trains very hard. 60 is not old if you keep yourself in shape. I'm sure this woman has more strength and energy than people half her age...not amazing. How about having someone who is terrified of water and can't swim overcome that and try and do this. That would be amazing!

    August 21, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jason Sjobeck

    Good luck!


    January 23, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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