Diana Nyad closes 2018-2019 Guilford College Bryan Series season


Gage Skidmore

Diana Nyad speaking at the 2016 Association for Applied Sport Psychology Annual Conference at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix, AZ. Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

On Thursday, April 11, journalist and now-retired long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad spoke to the Guilford and Greensboro community at the Greensboro Coliseum, closing the 2018-2019 Bryan Series season.

President Jane Fernandes opened the final installment of the season reflecting on the year’s speakers and delving into the story Nyad would share.

“Tonight, this is our last Bryan Series of the year and we are privileged to bring you an extraordinary woman and an extreme athlete who will share an amazing conversation about her achievements and her thoughts on a number of issues,” Fernandes said. “We want to thank Joe Bryan for his generosity and vision in making this Bryan Series possible.

Associate Vice President Ty Buckner is also optimistic about the upcoming Bryan Series season for the 2019-2020 academic year and reflected on the speakers that made the 2018-2019 season a success.

“We have had a great year and are looking forward to an even better year next year,” Buckner said.

Fernandes welcomed Nyad to the stage, emphasizing teamwork and its significance in Nyad’s record-breaking achievements.

“I am delighted to be able to introduce you to Diana Nyad, our speaker,” Fernandes said. “Diana is an endurance swimmer who’s renowned for her mental toughness, athleticism, willpower and commitment to teamwork. You will learn a lot about the amazing team she works with. Even though it appears that she is swimming 110 miles by herself without a shark tank, there is a whole team around her.”

At the age of 26, she made national headlines by swimming 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in approximately 8 hours and at the age of 64, after four attempts, Nyad fulfilled her dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida on Sept. 2, 2013.

She was the first to complete the 53-hour and 110-mile swim without a shark cage.

Author of “Find a Way,” Nyad sought to expand on the story behind her words after the record swim in 2013, “Never, Ever Give Up.”

“I went on to becoming a person that never, ever gives up,” Nyad said. “ … My twenties, the 1970s, were all about this blue jewel of a planet. There was Manhattan Island. There were swims off Mexico, Argentina and the Bay of Naples in Italy, but always, always apart from those respectable swims, there was Cuba.”

Nyad continued, discussing how despite the challenges associated with the swim, she felt compelled and determined to complete it.

“In part, it had become … the ultimate endurance challenge for a swimmer by virtue of the distance and all the other obstacles, mother nature raging on steroids out there, and in part, because of the story.” Nyad said. “One lone individual on an expedition team, making their way through the waves to connect our nation with that forbidden magical island my mother pointed out to me all those years ago.

“If you were to look at the map from your perspective, Havana’s down here and Key West is 100 miles due north right here. Nobody had ever swum 50 miles in the open ocean at that time and my team kept saying, ‘Why don’t we start with a place that’s 52 (miles) and build our way up?’ but the story of Havana was in my soul now.”

Bringing in the more geographical and physical risks of the swim, Nyad illustrated the challenges of the currents and streams that would make each attempt difficult and near impossible.

“Complications come when the mighty Gulf Stream, the most powerful ocean current on planet Earth, come squeezing through the Yucatan Channel here,” Nyad said. “And right above Cuba, right below Key West, that stream is flowing due east, six times faster than Michael Phelps’ sprint speed.”

Nyad spoke on the numerous attempts and smaller swims that played a part in her story of chasing her dream to accomplish what would ultimately become a life-long goal she would come back to chase in her 60s after her retirement.

She spoke of the reignition of the spark to chase this dream, adding a bit of humor to her anecdote.

“I started hunting around my office for a poem I had read once,” Nyad said. “I don’t know about you, I don’t understand poetry. At the end of every poem I have ever read, I say to myself, ‘Why don’t they just say it?’ But this poem had touched me somewhat. I knew I needed it and I bet you know it, Mary Oliver’s ‘The Summer Day.’ I must have read it 1,000 times that August 2009, turning 60.”

Nyad continued, describing in detail the sudden realization that led her back into swimming.

“It was particularly those last two, brilliant rhetorical lines, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life,’” Nyad said. “I was in the car. I think it was the thousandth time. I screeched over to the side of the road. I peered into the rear-view mirror. I haven’t swum a stroke in 30 years. Would the shoulders come back? Would the will fire up again?

“But that’s what I’m going to do with the one wild and precious life. I’m going to go over and chase that Cuba dream again. That was never another swim. That was an emblem of living life to the nth degree, being everything that you are, and everybody around you, the same. And we started to put it together.”

Nyad spoke about the journey itself, emphasizing the work of the behind-the-scenes team that helped to keep her on track throughout.