Last month, Diana Nyad made waves when she became the first person to make the grueling, 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida –sans shark cage. The 64-year-old swimmer’s successful fifth attempt made her a legend among long-distance swimmers and anyone chasing big dreams. Today –a mere month after completing her record-breaking swim– Nyad embarks on another journey. And this time, the New Yorker will be supporting a cause near and dear to her heart: Hurricane Sandy relief. Stationed in a 120-foot long pool in Herald Square, Nyad will swim for a continuous 48 hours to raise needed funds for AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster relief organization that provides aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. We chatted with the driven pro about “Swim for Relief”, Sandy, and following your dreams.
On Hurricane Sandy: “My heart broke when I saw Sandy hit my fellow New Yorkers and the people on the Jersey Shore last year. There are thousands of people still homeless in New York City. So, I went to my sponsor, which is Procter & Gamble, and I said, ‘We have to do something.’ What’s insane is that it turns out that the P&G brands were already there. That’s what they do with disaster relief: They show up with Duracell trucks and charge 2,000 cell phones overnight for people without electricity. And they said, ‘We’ll help you, we’ll help you build the pool, we’ll help you build the safety rails, we’ll help you get it done so that every dollar you raise when you’re swimming those 48 hours is going –not to the building of the pool, not to the event, no– it’s going to go right to AmeriCares and their Sandy relief program.’ So, I’m really proud of that and I’m all fired up for this event.”
On preparing for “Swim for Relief”: “Forty-eight hours is serious; you know anytime you’re going to swim that long –even in a pool with no jelly fish and no sharks and no wave action– I take it very seriously. I finished the Cuba swim on Labor Day. And frankly right now, one month later, I’m just fully recovered from those 53 hours in the ocean. By next week, all of the strength and the conditioning that came from the training for Cuba added to the swim itself –those 53 hours– are going to be with me next week. I’m going to swim it. I’m going to swim it non-stop, with all kinds of people in the lane next to me –we’ve got New York Giants volunteering, Broadway people, and Sandy victims who are going to swim with me, too. It’s never easy but muscularly and endurance-wise I’m at absolute peak to get these 48 hours done.”
On staying motivated: “It’s true that when Cuba was done, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s the end of my swimming career and I’m so happy to have finally gotten to that other shore.’ But the truth is, this is going to be so darn exciting. I don’t think anyone has ever constructed an almost mythic size pool in the middle of New York City!”
On what she thinks about during those long-distance swims: “Let’s just say you sat in your chair there and I sat in my chair here, just like this for 53 hours. What are you going to think about for 53 hours? So then imagine if you’re in a state of duress, you’re spending a lot of calories, you’re not feeling well with the salt water action, your eyes are covered with different goggles and you’re turning your head 55 times a minute so you’re not really focused, and then your ears are covered with tight caps. It’s a real kind of an experiment in sensory deprivation. Your mind is just way out in the middle of the universe and you start to hallucinate. I try to keep focused with a lot of counting –I count in different languages and I sing a lot of songs. I have 85 songs that are in my head and I sing those as I’m going along. I prefer Neil Young and The Beatles and Janis Joplin –all those great tunes of my era, so you keep your mind occupied and once in a while you can’t even keep your mind occupied. By then you’re just, you’re wooooo-ooooooh out there.”
On following your dreams: “I was somewhat unconscious when I walked up on that shore. I was feeling kind of dazed with the moment, so I didn’t remember what I said until I saw it on videotape later. But the first thing I said was to never, ever give up and I think that most of us have that as a part of the human spirit. You can travel around the world, from poor people to the richest people there are, it doesn’t matter, the people have in them that they want to dream and they want to fulfill themselves, they want a purpose, they want to give to their community and they don’t want to give up, that’s what makes us proud of ourselves. So, I live that message and I think people have reached out to me because they want to live that way, too.”
Diana Denza is BettyConfidential’s contributing editor.