I met Diana Nyad in 2013, when she came to Austin for the SXSW film festival premiere of the documentary “The Other Shore,” about her failed attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida.
She chatted with a small group of fans, who met her for a morning walk around downtown Austin. She made a point to talk with each of us, encouraging us to try something in our life that seemed impossible.
“Never give up,” she said, pumping a black, sweatsuit-clad fist in the air. “Onward!”
She didn’t give up. A few months after her Austin visit, at age 64, she successfully accomplished that 111-mile swim in just under 53 hours – although some controversy swirled about her methods.
Now Nyad’s written a book about her life and that awe-inspiring swim. “Find a Way” ($26.95, Knopf) gives a little insight into the mind of someone driven to endure ripping currents, near-fatal jellyfish stings and extreme fatigue to reach a goal.
Nyad attempted the swim in 2011 but pulled out half-way through because of asthma attacks and blasting currents. She tried again six weeks later, only to be turned back after repeated stings from a box jellyfish. In 2012, she began once more, but her crew pulled her from the water during a lightning storm.
Preparing for such a long swim takes stamina. It also involves tons of calories, a mental fortitude that few possess and, it turns out, plenty of vomiting. Nyad spent countless hours in pools and the ocean, swimming for eight, 12 and even 24 hours at a time, with a stroke as regular as a metronome. She’s not afraid of a dark, bottomless ocean, or the thought of sharks that might be circling underneath her at any moment.
It’s fascinating stuff, and it’ll put your laps across Barton Springs in perspective