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Swimming Toward a Lifetime Goal

Diana Nyad, 61, explains her motivation for attempting to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Key West

In early August, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, 61, set out to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Key West, Fla., in open water and without a shark cage.  After 29 hours of enduring shoulder pain, asthma and bad weather conditions, she abandoned her attempt.  In this piece, written prior to the swim, Nyad explains her motivation for trying to achieve this challenging athletic feat.

As I approached my 60th birthday last year, I was experiencing what millions of people my age tend to feel: disenfranchised, no longer valued, terribly worried that my best days were behind me.

Yet in my heart, I knew that the business of life is to live large: You can dream at any age. This is especially true for us boomers. We can put truth into those words. We are far from irrelevant as we grow older. We're now emotionally mature, brimming with wisdom and calm, still physically strong. As I see it, these years should be the prime of our lives.

See also: Your Life Calling with Jane Pauley

That's why I've spent the last year training for a swim that I was unable to complete when I was in my 20s: A 103-mile route between Cuba and Florida. I was the first athlete to ever attempt that route, and now I'm more determined than ever to complete it. It's been a time of intense commitment — many 8-, 10-, 12- and 15-hours swims and now I'm looking at the seas, ready to fulfill my lifelong dream.

Back in '70s, I broke many records as a long-distance swimmer. I've been honored for my achievements in halls of fame around the world: My 102.5 continuous miles from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979, the farthest ocean swim ever recorded; my 50-year record-breaking swim around Manhattan Island; and others.

I've had a stellar athletic career and achieved my dream of swimming the farthest open-water distance in history. Yet my dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida was dashed in 1978, after fighting stiff winds and huge seas for 41 hours and 49 minutes, I was still unable to reach the Florida coast.

Until about a year ago, I had taken a hiatus from swimming for 30 years. I'd been so gripped by swimmer's burnout that I had decided I'd never, ever swim a lap again in my life. But as I was closing in on the final months of my 50s, I was thrown into the existential angst of wondering what I had done with my life. I felt choked by how little time seemed left. I started swimming a few laps, just to take some pressure off the knees from all the other activities I enjoy.

Map of Diana Nyad route of swim from Cuba to Key West

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