A triumph of mind over everything

Diana Nyad rode in a parade in Key West after her swim.
Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/via Reuters
Diana Nyad rode in a parade in Key West after her swim.

It’s been more than 35 years since endurance swimmer Diana Nyad first set her mind to crossing the open water between Cuba and Florida. That she finally made it from Havana to Key West on Monday makes her example far more inspiring than if she’d reached the Florida coast in 1978. For one thing, she deliberately made her own task harder. On her unsuccessful first attempt, she used a shark cage pulled by a boat, a setup that creates a favorable draft for the swimmer. On her successful fifth attempt this weekend — at age 64 — she became the first person to make the crossing without a shark cage.

Nyad, who’d put the idea of swimming from Cuba to Florida aside for decades before reviving it in her 60s, made a bet that should prove deeply meaningful to a graying American population: that tougher mental discipline and smarter preparation can outweigh any physical constraints that age imposes. Nyad was right, but she still emerged from the water looking like — well, someone who’d been swimming for 53 hours. Contrary to the cliche about gifted athletes, Nyad didn’t make her feat look easy, because it wasn’t. That was the whole point.