I have got a story to share. It is about a sexagenarian who finally achieved her dream. A dream that had elude her for 35 years. Diana Nyad is a 64 year old American grandmother who earlier this week became the first person to swim across the Florida Strait without a shark cage. Her swimathon lasted for a total of 53 hours taking her from Florida to Cuba, a distance of 177km. What struck me about her story is that this was her fifth attempt in a period spanning 35 years. Her first attempt coming in 1977. During this first attempt she swam with a shark cage but only managed to cover a distance of 122km before the elements got the better of her. Her fourth attempt was in 2011. She had to abandon this after being stung twice by jellyfish as well as suffering an asthma attack.
Upon completing her swim and before collapsing in the arms of a friend with exhaustion she said “All my life, I don’t know where it came from, I believed in dreaming big. It doesn’t satisfy me to have small dreams and I can’t tell you what a big, big dream this is out here. It’s tough stuff.” She also had these simple nuggets of wisdom to share “I have three messages. One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a team.” That’s a perfect triad of advice for so much of what we aspire to do in life.
Her friend had this to say about her achievement “ If you know Diana you would know that if the weather was classy, and there were no beasts she would be the person to do it. “ I found this interesting because it is an approach most of us take when it comes to our dreams. We believe that if everything is ‘perfect’ then our dreams are attainable. But life is hardly ever like that. On our way to achieving our dreams we will most likely face challenges and setbacks. We might even fail several times. And as in the case of Diana Nyad it might take us 35 very long years before we ever realise them. And sometimes
Therein lays the lesson. Anyone can have a dream. It is only the ones who never give up, the believers who will end up seeing out their dreams. Despite the naysayers who thought she was too old to complete the swim (and not just because of venomous jellyfish and the potential for fearsome sharks), Diana Nyad proved that persistence, willpower and fierce dedication to your dreams can trump age.
This story served as a timely reminder just coming after a period when I have suffered a few setbacks with my writing. I sent out a few pieces I had written in the hope that I would get some of them published. Unfortunately I wasn’t successful. I was discouraged and disheartened. Coincidentally, during Nyad’s swim, she mentally sang to herself the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” which includes these apt lyrics about persistence: Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? Anyway the voice of doubt in my head became louder and for a while I stopped writing altogether. I gave up. I shared this experience with one of my close friends recently. This friend is brother to my dreams, as I am to his. He said to me” Stay at it man, you have just got to keep knocking on those doors. Truth be told, you might even get more no’s, just remember the NO is not an absolute, think of it more like not right now”
As Diana Nyad pointed out it “takes a team.” It’s critical to have encouraging mentors, networking contacts, colleagues, family members and friends who can encourage you and suggest ideas to help you succeed. For example, after each try, Nyad consulted with experts on how best to finish the swim the next time. After her attempt two years ago was foiled by an asthma attack, she invited a pulmonologist to join her 35-member support team.
Diana Nyad’s words suggest that although swimming is a deeply solitary pursuit, even athletes like her rarely accomplish their goals alone. And that’s another important lesson that we can all pick up from Diana Nyad’s swim. Most of are ill prepared to deal with and recover from failures and setbacks when we are still trying to achieve our dreams. We don’t have a Plan B, when Plan A fails. We are even afraid to share our dreams or ask for help. So while your dream might seem like a solitary pursuit, you will most likely need a “dream team” to achieve it.