“You should never, ever give up.” — Diana Nyad
As a follow up to my last post, which was about resilience and transcending past failures, I offer this addendum. My wife reminded me that I had missed an opportunity to celebrate the very recent record breaking swim of Diana Nyad, who stroked through 110 miles of choppy, shark infested waters from Cuba to Florida. Nyad first attempted the feat in 1978 and four more times unsucccessfully, suffering various setbacks along the way. In 2012, the attempt was thwarted by painful jellyfish stings all over her lips. Venom from box jellyfish contains paralyzing toxins that attack the skin, heart and nervous system and is considered to be among the most deadly in the world.
At the age of 64, the world would have given her a pass if she had thrown in the towel. She has made not one, but five Valiant Tries at her Dream. That’s more than most of us will ever hazard. But Diana wouldn’t let it go. She kept at it, and in the process incorporated several of the key steps in the Hero’s Journey.
- She suffered humbling, yet valuable defeat. For in defeat, we learn much about ourselves and our Adversaries.
- She built a Traveling Party, with Mentors (a jellyfish expert!) and other Helpers aiding in her Heroic Quest.
- She overcame adversity. In her 53 hour odyssey, she battled fatigue, hallucinations (“I thought I saw the Taj Mahal”), non-stop vomiting, huge waves, salt water abrasions, jellyfish and other predators. I swam 53 hours once. It only took me 20 years to do it.
- She accumulated Supernatural Aids and Implements. The jellyfish expert helped her develop a sting-resistant wetsuit, sting-resistant cream, and a sting-resistant jellyfish mask. The latter made her look like a masked superhero.
- She understood the power of a great soundtrack. Her team’s boat was outfitted with an 85 song playlist to help her maintain focus and motivation. Her go-to song? The Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young. Because when you are facing down a cadre of stinging jellyfish and hallucinating about the Taj Majal in your bizarre, vomit-filled superhero mask, what’s better than a song about the ravages of heroin addiction?
Which got me thinking: there has been a dearth of really good female superheroes (Black Canary? Owlwoman? Yeesh). I tried to think up some Heroic comic book-esque alter ego names for Nyad, with sad results. A lot of the names I tried were taken (Aquamarine, Fathom) or just plain weird (Pelagic Princess, Oceanica, Nauti-Girl). Oh well, her Heroic Deed stands on its own merit. and requires little embellishment.
So, the next time you feel like abandoning the Dreams of your Inner Child, because they feel too large, too impossible, remember Ms. Nyad. Are you willing to try and fail, time and again, over 35 years to achieve your Wildest Ambitions? Are you willing to fend off stinging jellyfish, hurling into the ocean because your food won’t stay down, relentlessly pumping your arms and legs through ten foot waves beating you back, for 53 hours until, at long last, you splash your way to the end of your Quest?