Diana Nyad On How To Get From Here To There

In 1979, Diana Nyad swam 102-and-a-half miles from Florida to the Bahamas. It was the longest known swim in history. Nyad, who is now a radio personality, offers her thoughts on how to wrap things up.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day. You know, we're winding down our show on the air, but we will live on online. You can check us out there at npr.org/daydreaming. You'll see pictures of all of us there, the on-air and off-air staff, and links to where we will be. As for me, I'll be at madeleinebrand.com. I'm doing a podcast there. And Alex?

ALEX COHEN, host:

You can find me online at alexcoheninla.blogspot.com, and you can also have a chance to check me out on the big screen. I've had the amazing opportunity to play myself - well, it's actually my alter ego, Axels of Evil, in a Drew Barrymore movie - it's coming out soon - called "Whip it." It's about roller derby, which is a sport that I happen to play when I'm not doing radio. And I will say as a female athlete, one of my sports heroes is Diana Nyad.

BRAND: Diana Nyad. In 1979, she swam more than 102 miles from the Bahamas to Florida, and she set a long-distance record for women and men. It stood for 20 years.

(Soundbite of interview)

Ms. DIANA NYAD (Swimmer): I knew that this was going to be my last swim. I was 30 years old and I thought, it's about time I grow up and join the job market. And you know, as an athlete, it's part of the tragedy of sports, is that you have to retire when you're young. Nevertheless, I was swimming 102.5 miles, from the Bahamas to Florida, and it took a long time. It took many, many long hours. But in the end, when I saw the shore, of course, some of the perspective started flooding. But the way to do it is not to think of the big picture. It's to think of stroke by stroke and do it as perfectly as you can.

BRAND: Is that what you did? It's that what you did - you took that moment in 1979, and you applied that?

Ms. NYAD: I would say that that last mile that I swam when I really - the shore was getting closer and there were several thousand people on the beach, of course, I started to be flooded with the bigger picture. But I must say that I tried to, and I tried to say this is - this is the way to go about your life, is moment by moment. Try to be right here. Doing this interview with you, you're very intense. I can see that you're truly listening to me.

BRAND: Mm-hmm.

Ms. NYAD: And, you know, you're facing an emotional week, I'm sure, as you're ending. And you've done such a good job, and your crew has, and people have enjoyed you. But you're right here doing this interview right now, the way you do it well. And that's what I was doing in that last mile.

BRAND: Hmm. Well, do you think that there's something about training for a sports and training for big, physical, endurance events that prepares your mind for that - more than any other activity?

Ms. NYAD: I don't think it's endurance sports. I think it's sports in general. I had Olympic dreams. If you had met me when I was 10 or 11, I would say, yeah, Madeleine, I'm going to be in the Olympic Games. And I had a heart disease. I had a couple other things that happened. Would've, should've, could've, you know, before I started the distant swimming. But I remember when I was coming to the end of my career as a sprint swimmer, and it was either going to make the Olympic team or not, a 16-year-old girl grabbed my shoulders and said, you know, hey, you look like you're in a fog. You're about to swim the most important 100 meters of your life - what's going on with you? And I said, oh, I've sacrificed so much and my coach and my family, my brother and sister gave up all their dreams and the house for me. She said, stop it. Stop it. You have the rest of your life to think about all that stuff. Right now, you've have a hundred meters. Why don't you get in there and look - and when you finish that race, you look at the little pinky of your fingernail, that little rounded half moon and say, did I do it that well that I didn't leave even that much behind? That I swim it, that I could say, I couldn't have done it a fingernail faster. And it was a metaphor for me. I did that race that way, and I didn't make the Olympic team. But she said, you won't look back if you do it all just like that.

BRAND: And as you said, it's pretty brutal in terms of your career, in terms of endings because usually there's a time limit, right?

Ms. NAYAD: Yeah.

BRAND: I mean, age limit...

Ms. NYAD: Yeah.

BRAND: When you're able to do the things you're able to do. Your body says no, that's it. You're over.

Ms. NYAD: Yeah.

BRAND: That's the end. How do you ...

Ms. NYAD: Well, sometimes your body doesn't because, you know, you could be 35 and feel quite young. I'm 59, and I feel quite young. And now, you know, to surf or boogie board, or ride my bike a hundred miles or bounce down the street like I own it...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NYAD: Is plenty for me. I've lowered my standards.

BRAND: Well, Diana Nyad, thank you very much.

Ms. NYAD: It's my pleasure, and good luck to you.

BRAND: Thank you.

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