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A few years ago, I gushed about Diana Nyad who is a commentator on sports and the business of sports on PRI's Marketplace. Ms. Nyad, on top of being a great reporter, is a former athlete. She was a long distance swimmer--and for about ten years, she was the greatest long distance swimmer on earth--and she continues to hold the world record for continuous swimming without a wetsuit.

I say former athlete, but that's not true. Yesterday, she embarked on a new record. She's swimming from Cuba to Florida, a swim that should take her about 60 hours. She tried this swim 30 years ago and failed.

I think she is a remarkable athlete by any standard. The records she holds and achieved are for people in general, not just women. She had very little assistance in her training when she was younger, because not that many programs supported female athletes. There was no Title IX.

I've seen a couple of news pieces on her effort to swim 103 miles in the last few days, but I find it interesting that the headlines read "From Cuba To Florida: A 61-Year-Old Starts The 103-Mile Swim" without mentioning her name in the headline. I don't blame the newsfolk, most people DON'T know who she is.

I don't know why more people aren't following this story. Maybe it is because she's a woman, and most people don't follow women's sports. Maybe because it is swimming, and swimming is one of those every four year sports. Maybe it is because it's an individual effort rather than an organized race. Maybe it's because they didn't know exactly when she'd be doing it because weather conditions had to be perfect before she went into the water.

But shit.... This is an amazing swim. 103 miles. I am happy when I can pull off a mile. I've stood in the water before the race started with triathletes, people who do a lot of training in the water, and a good hunk of them have utter dread for the next 20-30 minutes because it's the swim.

When I was in college, the coach of the swim team was a woman named Penny Lee Dean held the fastest Catalina individual record. She still holds it, male and female, from 1976. (She also holds a double swim record for swimming from Catalina to the mainland and back.) She was an amazing coach, and she worked with me quite a bit when I took a water polo elective with her. I knew that my stroke improved ten fold under her instruction, and I found out that, like with a lot of other contact team sports, I wasn't all that bad at water polo. A lot of my friends were on the swim team, and on August 18, 1994, some of them hopped in the water to swim from the Mainland to Catalina in a relay. They still hold the record for women, but their coach individually swam faster in 1976 than they did collectively eighteen years later.

These distance records endure. Technology can only help so much, but generally it's just putting one arm in front of the other and kicking. Someone with the stamina to do something like this is remarkable. Someone with stamina and speed? A rare breed. Someone who had stamina and speed, tried it once 30 years ago and then tries again at the age of 61?

My goodness, we should all be rooting Diana Nyad on.

And maybe I'll think about getting back in the water after I've run this half marathon I'm training for.


( 2 comments — Say something )
Aug. 8th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
I was so excited yesterday when I saw she had finally gotten to start the swim!!!
Aug. 8th, 2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
so exciting!
( 2 comments — Say something )