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Swimmer, author, and journalist Diana Nyad treated Fall Conference attendees with an inspirational and spirited presentation where she shared her journey of becoming the first person ever to swim from Havana to Key West—a mindboggling 110 miles, and without a shark cage.

Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, Nyad set what would be the tone of her remarks early, coming onstage with a trumpet and playing “Reveille”—a French military bugle call—and telling the audience the song is a metaphor for how she has lived her life.

“Onward. Get up. Don’t miss the dawn. Don’t miss a moment of your life.”

Nyad shared a story from her childhood that shaped both her worldview and her future. She told of her “very dramatic” Greek father, who one day woke Diana in tears to take in the beauty of the ocean. Her father pointed out to her a definition in the dictionary: “Nyad means girl or woman champion swimmer. This is your destiny.”

From that moment, the seed was planted. Nyad began training intensely – fanatically, in her words – as a distance swimmer, with an eye toward the Olympics. After the Cuban revolution, when thousands of refugees flooded into Nyad’s hometown of Miami, a nine-year-old Diana asked her mother how far away Cuba was from Florida.

“So close that a strong swimmer like you, you could swim there,” came her mother’s reply. Another seed was planted – one that would ultimately propel Nyad to attempt to make that very swim four times after failing to qualify for the Olympics.

At age 64, Nyad embarked on her final – and successful – attempt. With a team of 40, including navigators, medical experts, and personal handlers, Nyad began her 100+ mile open ocean swim, battling marine life, sensory deprivation, and the powerful Gulf Stream. Fifty-two hours later, she emerged triumphant.

“Cuba was about potential,” she concluded. “To drill down to every last thread of physical and mental potential. I am now 74 years old. I have no regrets.”

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October 17, 2023



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