“A young girl’s praise for Diana Nyad’s determination”
By Sheryl McAlister, a freelance writer based in South Carolina.
As role models go, they don’t make ‘em any better than Diana Nyad.
In case you missed the news last fall, Nyad was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Expressing this unprecedented feat in one sentence doesn’t come close to capturing the significance of the achievement. She made it across on her 5th attempt – at the age of 64. Four of the attempts were after she turned 60.
The word inspirational doesn’t adequately describe the impact this woman and her dogged determination have had on so many people. If her personal story didn’t move you to cheer for her, her 35-year pursuit of athletic perfection would have certainly done so. She instilled in us a pride that we had neither earned nor deserved. Her efforts were our efforts. Her unfinished attempts our heartache. We desperately wanted her to make it. For herself. For all of us who would never have the talent or the courage to try.
We witnessed the unfailingly loyal group of teammates and friends who helped her pull it off. But make no mistake – she was in the water all by herself. The feat was extraordinary. The fact that she attempted it so many times was beyond extraordinary.
She taught those of us in the over-a-certain age crowd about resilience. She taught us about a commitment at a time in life when most folks would have literally thrown in the towel. She represented then and now the promise of health and youth and life in the AARP Age.
But we – the old broads — weren’t the only ones watching.
My youngest niece bore witness, several times as the news of the attempts and ultimate victory played out across networks around the country. And in my living room. She listened. She absorbed it all. Asked questions. She never questioned why someone would do something like this. She just needed to understand fully the perils associated with the undertaking. And she watched on television with millions of others an exhausted athlete realize a lifelong dream.
This kid was moved in a way that stayed with her.
Sometime later, she was telling me about an article she read in Time Magazine for Kids. She excitedly shared her news and asked if I remembered “…. the woman who swam all that way with the sharks and the jelly fish without a cage?” She was thrilled she had the context to share with her classmates.
I suggested she write Diana an email. This was just about the time the new season of Dancing with the Stars began. I cautioned my niece that, in all likelihood, she would not ever hear from Diana. “She is a very busy woman, and if you hear from her at all, it may be a long time. But if you feel strongly about it,” I told her, “you should write her anyway.”
Not to worry, my niece assured me.
I do not know Diana Nyad nor have I ever met her. I have a friend, however, who knows her quite well. So I forwarded the email from my 8-year-old niece, who shared with “Ms. Diana” that she lived in South Carolina, swam on the swim team, etc… etc…
The note included several items of interest (for a third grader) and included a heartfelt message to “Ms. Diana” that she had been “…inspired because you went so far and never gave up.” She also asked her for an autographed swim picture. “You know, one where the autograph is on the picture,” her note said. (She was very specific about that.)
Within a week, my niece received an envelope. Inside was a color postcard of Diana Nyad, in all her beautiful, tanned, muscular, swimsuit-clad glory. And a note — on the picture.
“McLaurin: Never give up on your dreams. Find a way!” diana nyad
In her lifelong pursuit of a singular dream, Diana taught us all how to be our own hero. And she touched the heart of an 8-year-old who understood on a fundamental level the courage it took as well as the ultimate victory in both the journey and the destination.
The latest edition of Time Magazine for Kids features Marvel Comics’ new superhero. It’s a woman. (Way cool!!) But her identity is not yet known.
Hey, I’ve got an idea.
Copyright 2014 Sheryl McAlister