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Issue of April 16, 2014

A hope note
A hope note
Dr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.

Finding our 'inner Nyad'

December 04, 2013 | 10:51 AM

In her youth, Diana Nyad never dreamed of becoming the world's greatest long-distance swimmer. After three Florida high school championships swimming the backstroke, her ambition was to make the 1968 Olympics team.

That dream was crushed by a bout of endocarditis. After three months in bed, Nyad resumed her swimming but quickly became convinced that her days of competitive speed swimming were over.

She decided to switch to marathon swimming. In 2013, at age 64, on her fifth attempt since 1978, Nyad became the first person — male or female, young or old — to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, never knowing what storms, jellyfish or other sea creatures she might encounter, especially at night.

Beyond her age, endurance and courage, several other things about her historic feat have earned my respect.

One month after her 53-hour historic swim, she swam for 48 hours in a 40-yard pool set up at a busy Manhattan intersection, parlaying her fame into donations of more than $103,000 for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Nyad credits her mantra "Find A Way!" for her success. Through all the years preparing for her historic swim, she said there was never a waking moment without the vision of that other shore and without feeling pressure to tend to every detail that would help make her dream come true.

When the swimming got toughest, Nyad drew strength from writings of the brilliant physicist and quadriplegic Stephen Hawking and visions of the yellow brick road from "The Wizard of Oz."

Nyad reflects: "We all need to somehow find the courage, the endurance, to find a way to our respective, individual other shore."

Bloggers who swim competitively now write about being "Nyad-tough" and "kindling their inner Nyad."

May we each be Nyad-tough enough to make it to our other shore.

Dr. Wayne Willis

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