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Nyad's journey: In her own words
September 16th, 2011
10:21 AM ET

Nyad's journey: In her own words

Editor's note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta follows Diana Nyad while she attempted to break a world record, swimming without a shark cage from Cuba to Florida. Tune in to "Diana Nyad: Xtreme Dream" at 8 and 11 p.m. ET Saturday and at 2 a.m. ET Sunday on CNN. "Sanjay Gupta MD" airs at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturdays and Sundays on CNN.

When any of us looks back at extended-effort periods of our lives, what are we left with, other than the way in which we conducted ourselves, our display of inner character and strength, our class in facing the tough turns in the road?

Along with some 30 sterling individuals, I just spent more than two years in pursuit of a near-impossible endeavor: an epic, first-ever swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. We called our expedition the "Xtreme Dream." And "Xtreme" it was.

The training alone was almost torturous. I have researched and now concluded that I did more long swims over the past two years - in preparation for the predicted 60 hours of this swim - than any ocean swimmer has ever done over a lifetime. Countless, grueling, mind-bending eight-, nine-, 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-, 24-, 29-hour marathons.

The organization was huge in scope and intensely demanding in detail. Both U.S. and Cuban government permissions were difficult to navigate. Gathering world-class experts from fields of shark protection, tricky navigation challenges, unmined nutrition and endurance precedence. The pressure of fund-raising.

In the end, not one individual I approached for assistance turned away. To a person, they all dived in and stayed with the project to the last stroke taken.

The bond of friendship. Strong personalities willing to leave their egos at the door. The natural high of all rising to act as our best selves for the greater good of the "Xtreme Dream" vision brought us not only together as a tight unit, but made us all as individuals proud of ourselves.

Gallery: Diana Nyad's journey

We were prepared for any possible outcome. I had many years of experience in swimming across oceans from my former life as a world-class swimmer in the '70s. Add to that the compiled experience of this dream team of 30 over the past two years and all our time on the water together, we were sky-high confident when we swam out of Hemingway Marina in Havana on August 7.

Nearly 30 hours later, hit by utter surprise, I finally succumbed to an intense and debilitating asthma seizure. The asthma forced me into gasping fits, muscles begging for oxygen, for more than 11 hours. We tried every possible solution to get through the crisis. But in the end, this unprecedented, unexpected wrench brought the dream to a disappointing end.

Video: 'To my grave without finishing this swim'

As an athlete, I was devastated. I knew I had this swim entirely within my grasp. I wasn’t even sore, not a drop of lactic acid, in my muscles when it was over. I stood in front of my team that night of August 9, after not sleeping for three days, and tearfully thanked every one of them - by then a group that had swelled to 60, by name and by specific anecdote.

Struggling with shoulder pain, asthma

I was ready for 100-plus miles, 60 hours, and had been “cheated” into only accomplishing about half that goal.

But there is more to sports than the finish line. There is a human spirit, larger than life, deeper than athletic records.

Back in the U.S. after abandoning swim

And the human spirit of this "Xtreme Dream," with me fighting that crushing asthma, my team trying every possible remedy to keep me going, was to be admired.

We were passionate players in a human drama who lived life large and grand for those 30 hours, especially those last 11. Truth be told, we lived life large and grand for the entire two-year period.

So, to come full circle in this “conversation” about looking back at periods of our lives when we don’t particularly want to embrace the end result, what do I take away from the experience, other than the athletic disappointment of not making it all the way across?

See Nyad's track across the water

It’s like a friend of yours going through a bitter divorce, feeling the entire marriage was a waste of precious time because the relationship didn’t last. Surely you don’t spend a decade or so with someone, dedicating your care and heart, without in the end being able to savor the good times, considering it mostly time well-spent?

Well, here I am, with a body built like a granite statue, at the age of 62. Here I am, surrounded with a group of intelligent, focused, upbeat people whose passion I will never forget. Here I am, inspired by my own full-tilt engagement in life over every single moment of these past two years, ready to spend every single moment of the rest of my life similarly engaged, no matter the dream.

CNN’s documentary is a tribute to this force of spirit. I am profoundly grateful for its long-term, steadfast vision of our "Xtreme Dream" as important news for the world to witness.

And, as for the athletic dream, let’s just say that I will admit I am not at ease with the story ending as it is.

Read more about Diana Nyad's journey


soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. geoff

    get a job

    September 16, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sue

      I agree. See my post below Ted's response dated 9/17/11 also. What gives with these athletes today who have their own personal trainers, doctors, etc., that think everyone might "be inspired" no matter what irrational or dumb things they may do when so many people today are struggling just to live and make ends meet..and they may not even be able to afford health insurance!

      September 17, 2011 at 22:08 | Report abuse |
    • Brenda

      Yeah, Geoff & sue, lets see either of you attempt to swim across 90 miles of shark-infested waters – especially at age 62. Don't be such haters.

      September 18, 2011 at 21:57 | Report abuse |
  2. jk2001

    Thanks for trying. Its pretty bad ass anyone would try swimming 60 hours straight through shark infested waters.......Americans are such fat asses.......inspirational to see some one at that athletic level.......not to mention that age.......
    (response to geoff: put more cheese on your fried icecream)

    September 16, 2011 at 19:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. 1racebannon

    Kudos to you for a superb effort!!! Did you know you had asthma going into this? Perhaps it was not wise to attmept a 60 mile swim with an asthma conditiion.

    September 16, 2011 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Chris

    Wait, is she the one with the Pop-Tart space cat?

    September 16, 2011 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Ted

    Who paid for all of the expenses associated with this 15 minutes of fame attention getting stunt?

    September 17, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sue

      I agree with Ted. Boo-hoo that she "didn't make it". It was insulting to see such blatant exhibitionism from someone who is already in otherwise great physical condition "perform" such a stupid stunt when she already has breathing problems...only to enjoy glory by having her "journey" spread all over the news. I was not inspired when I saw this, knowing that today there are millions of Americans with asthma or other conditions who can't even afford the "simple luxury" of health insurance. She obviously does not respect that her body has actual limitations. I would rather see a story about an average Joe who has worked to overcome a physical disability than some current athlete trying to show off in a novel way just because she wanted to realize her own "dream".

      September 17, 2011 at 22:01 | Report abuse |
  6. jopsjennings

    I would like to jog all the way across the United States. Can you please transfer all your staff and helpers over to me to help me develop a training and logistical strategy, and hold a few press conferences letting everyone know that this is my plan? Thanks, I know that everyone in the U.S. will be grateful that I let them know ahead of time the achievement I intend to accomplish in their honor, and in the honor of athletics in general...

    September 17, 2011 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jose

    As I watched the heroic attempt of Ms. Nyad's to cross the Florida Straight my mind could not get away from the memory of my late friend Rafael who in the 1970’s took off from Cuba in a raft made out of inner tubes. The only escorts that he and his 5 friends had were fear, sharks and their lust for freedom. They were in the water for more than a week and ran out of water and he and two of his friends perished of thirst, exhaustion and exposure. Two of the friends survived and recuperated but their tale will forever haunt me for the rest of my life. Those waters are unforgiving and have known so much misery for thousands of people that have attempted the same trip.

    September 18, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. larry

    One athletic adventure trip of some kind in your life can change your whole life. For me it was a run across California from Yuma to Oceanside keeping off highways and roads as much as possible using old abandon trails and some of the Butterfield stage coach road. I ran through wilderness areas I've never seen before and averaged 25-35 miles a day for 250 miles, a bit less per day in the steep mountains and snow. I trained for 18 months. Almost no one knew about the run and that's just the way I wanted it. I did the safety stuff and hid supplies along the way during scouting runs. I notified a few key friends of my trip and the route and some of them came with me on the scouting trips and knew the path I was going to take. There was not record to establish or break and the trip was a success beyond my dreams. I under why people do these things and there are not always words that explain it.

    September 18, 2011 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.