Staying Afloat During Life's Challenges

Diana Nyad, who completed a historic swim from Cuba to Florida, has a formula for overcoming your hardest obstacles.
Diana Nyan swimming

© Courtesy of Diana Nyad

If you’ve ever been stuck in the deep end, facing overwhelming obstacles in business or in life, it’s worth paying attention to Diana Nyad. In 2013, the competitive swimmer, then 64, braved violent ocean currents, 12-foot waves, and jellyfish stings to become the first person to complete the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. Her fifth attempt—35 years in the making—was the charm. And it wasn’t the only significant challenge she had faced. As a survivor of sexual abuse when she was in grade school, Nyad has been candid about overcoming unthinkable struggles.

Nyad will share her story in November at the 2018 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Boston. She spoke to REALTOR® Magazine about setting extraordinary goals and living your best life. 

Why was such a risky swim your lifelong goal?

I grew up in Little Havana (in Miami) where, in the 1950s, it was flooded with Cuban immigrants. Because of the historically tense relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, it has been this forbidden shore. As a little swimmer at the age of 9, I used to stand on the beach with my mother, looking for the Cuban shoreline. She’d tell me, ‘It’s right there over the horizon—you could almost swim there.’ For me, it was about connecting to this forbidden land. I wanted to symbolically bridge these two divided countries.

What motivated you to keep trying after each failed attempt?

The basic trait that makes us successful, that makes us feel we’re doing the most with our lives, is persistence. We all get knocked down by bad timing, competition, or unfortunate circumstances, and those of us who get back up—we’re the ones who wind up standing on the other side. You need resolve. Each time I jumped off those rocks and into the water, I thoroughly believed I was going to make it across. Each time I failed, it was devastating, but I was never ready to give up.

After a major accomplishment, how do you keep up the momentum?

I’m 69 now, and I have a lot of energy and a lot more people to inspire. I remember when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, he pulled it out of his pocket and admired it for a minute, saying, “Look at this beautiful, sleek device.” Then he put it back in and said, “I better not keep staring at this piece of eye candy so I can get to work on the next one.” My motto is “onward,” and I write that at the end of all my letters, emails, and blogs.

What have you learned about overcoming trauma?

When I meet someone who’s been through the Holocaust and listen to the stories of unspeakable atrocities they went through, it reminds me of what I have more than what I don’t. It’s no picnic to go through sexual abuse. I’m allowed to have some rage about it, but then I focus on what I have—and that list is long. You have this precious life to live. You should go to bed at night feeling like you threw everything at making your day worthwhile.

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