By Pamela Burke/August 23, 2012
Hats off to Diana Nyad for her amazingly gutsy attempt to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys! Can you imagine anyone at any age attempting this dangerous swim through shark-infested waters inhabited by jellyfish with 10-foot-long tentacles? This 63-year-old marathon swimmer never flinched nor turned back, even after three previous attempts and knowing full well the challenges ahead of her.
As she told Savannah Guthrie on the TODAY show, it wasn’t that she didn’t have it in her. It wasn’t the hypothermia, the hellacious thunder storms, nor the 35 mile-an-hour winds. None of that mattered. She exclaimed, “I would have gone to my grave trying.”
But there was one thing she could not beat. Diana said, “It was the jellies!”
Linda Foley, a writer for examiner.com, described these extremely dangerous invertebrates. “The venon of these small box jellyfish is considered to be among the most deadly in the world containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells. It is so overpoweringly painful, human victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before even reaching shore.”
Just about every inch of her body was covered with protective materials including pantyhose shielding part of her face, and yet Diana was stung over and over again. In spite of the pain and having to leave the water with a 50 mile swim left to complete her Xtreme Dream (as she calls it), she described the experience of training and trying as “magnificent.”
She told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America that even though it was an ordeal, she was in better shape now than in her 20’s. In Diana’s article in the Huffington Post yesterday, she wrote she was proud that she did seize the time, saying that she “couldn’t have done any of it a fingernail better.”
Seeing this extraordinary effort by Diana led us to get in touch with Cynthia Aguilar, the champion paddleboarder we featured last year on The Women’s Eye. She attempted a similar journey paddling from Cuba to the Florida Keys twice. The second time she made it and set a world record for paddleboarding that distance. She accomplished it nonstop, solo and prone.
We wanted to ask Cynthia about this quest by athletes to cross these treacherous waters and her thoughts about Diana’s dangerous adventure.
EYE: Were you amazed to see Diana attempt to do this marathon swim again?
CYNTHIA: I was not surprised at all!!! People like us believe that if we can go so far, we can go even further by pushing ourselves to do so.
EYE: She just turned 63. Should age be a factor in trying something like this?
CYNTHIA: Endurance athletes do get better with time. The right training, nutrition, and mentality is key.
EYE: What keeps people like the two of you coming back to try again?
CYNTHIA: For me, personally, it is the people around me and from miles away that followed me from the start and even up to now. Because of them I tried again to prove that anything is possible.
EYE: How dangerous are those jellyfish that she she faced? You said you were plagued by them. Diana spoke to CNN (above) and said the jellies were impossible to deal with.
CYNTHIA: They are so annoying. After so many stings your body reacts to fight them and when you are in the middle of something this extreme, you don’t want to use whatever little energy you have left to fight them off. And if you are allergic to them, it can be deadly.
I believe we are seeing more and more jellies, even doubling in number, because of the lack of predators eating them. The over-fishing and pollution are throwing our ecosystem off.
“There are only a few of us that are crazy enough to do it because we want to.”
EYE: How tough do you think this swim was?
CYNTHIA: How tough is it? Put it this way. Just think of the hundreds and thousands of Cubans who end up dead crossing this body of water. There are only a few of us that are crazy enough to do it because we want to.
EYE: How hard do you think it was to decide that it was time to give up the attempt?
CYNTHIA: It’s not giving up. It’s more like being realistic, smart and how much you want your crew to suffer. It was the toughest choice I ever made in my life up to now.
EYE: How does a swimmer or athlete like yourself deal psychologically with having to abandon the dream?
CYNTHIA: This makes or breaks you. It’s not what happens but what you do with it. The dream doesn’t have to end.
EYE: You had to stop during your first attempt. How did you get the courage to try again?
CYNTHIA: I knew almost right away I was going again. It wasn’t to try again, but to make it without any doubts. Resetting my mind and rethinking why I was doing it help a lot. But taking it day by day and getting the right people around you makes a huge difference.
EYE: What would you want to say to Diana if you could speak with her at this point?
CYNTHIA: Being a role model and guiding and helping others to follow their own dreams and goals is as rewarding, sometimes even more.
EYE: What does it take to successfully accomplish this swim or paddle?
CYNTHIA: Mind, body and soul! The right preparation, right people around you and having the right reason to do it. Everything else is up to mother nature.
EYE: What’s your next challenge going to be?
CYNTHIA: There are endless possibilities. To paddle 130 miles was always my goal. But for now Keep Paddlin, Inc. and racing are where my concentration is. I’m working on getting sponsors and making traditional Prone Paddling more well known.
EYE: Thanks, Cynthia. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors!
Let’s remember Diana’s words of advice as she ended her Post blog: “Seize your days. All of them. Be bold. Don’t give in to fear.”