Ten years ago, at age 64, Diana Nyad swam 111 miles from Cuba to Florida, in 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds. She recounts the epic journey in her memoir, Find a Way, and through NYAD, a Netflix film starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster. AARP spoke to Nyad for the October/November issue of AARP The Magazine.
Hearing the clock
I got a sense early that life would go by alarmingly fast. At 9 years old, I used to imagine being my age now and thinking I had to sleep less so I could do more for myself and for other people.
The legacy of abuse
As a teen, I just wanted to be a student and an athlete. But sexual abuse by my coach — starting when I was 14 — threw me into a state of silence and humiliation. I have tried to let go of anger. At 74, I’m pretty sure I’m living the best life I can. But shame can bubble up. You don’t say to someone who’s been through a trauma, “Are you over it?” No, they’re not and never will be, but you try to deal with it and live a good life.
Finding love and letting it morph
In high school in the 1960s, I didn’t know gay people, didn’t see them on TV, didn’t have gay friends. I came out when I was 21 and was always open and proud. I have been madly in love three times. I am still close to each of those women. When I die, if the three of them stand around my grave and hold hands and say, “Nobody knows what it’s like to have a friend like Diana Nyad,” that would rock my world.
In my 20s, I took up marathon swimming. A friend reminded me I lived on the world’s most famous island. I swam around Manhattan in 1975. Three years later, I attempted to swim from Havana to Key West — and failed. In 1979, I swam 102 miles from the Bahamas to Florida. Then I gave up swimming for 30 years.
I had a great career as a broadcaster and covered the Olympic Games, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the NYC Marathon and the Hawaiian Ironman, among other events. On the sidelines cheering for those people and getting their stories, I thought there would be enough art and talent in reporting to keep me engaged. But it started to run thin.