Diana Nyad chats about her Cuba to Key West swim

May 26, 2011

Chat with Diana Nyad, age 61, about her upcoming second attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West.

Related: Diana Nyad, at age 61, prepares for second attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West

Hi everyone! Thanks for your interest.  I'm ready for your questions!

What kind of diet do you keep before such a long swim, and are you able to drink or eat anything during your swim?

You're never allowed to touch the boat or get out onto the boat, but of course over such a long period you need to take in both liquids and solid food.  So I come very close to my escort boat and they hand me electrolytes mixed in sports drinks, sometimes peanut butter and banana, occasionally a protein powder, and I try to keep up an average of 1,000 intake per hour. 

Before the swim I just try to eat sensibly.  I try to eat regulra meals instead of just snacks.  There are some days where I'll eat 8,000 calories per day, on a day before a 12, 14, 18 hour swim.  For a 61-year-old woman that's a lot!  And I try not to eat too much refined sugar - cookies, desserts, those sorts of things.

How did you get started swimming? How old were you when you learned?

I grew up in Florida, so you start swimming at the age of 1 really.  By 10 I was competitve swimming, and by 12 I had aspirations to be the best in the world.

Pretty simple question. But why?

When I turned 60 I was really aggrevated at being 60.  I just, like many peole my age, felt like I had so much energy, viality.  I'm at the top of my game.  I'm at the top of my life.  On the other hand, you look around and lawyers are forced to retire...we're such a youth oriented culture.  I thought, you know what?  I'm going to do something.  I don't know what it is, but I'm going to do something that makes me feel alive and relavant.  I never thought of swimming, I had reitred and was done, but when I id turn 60, I thought, you know what? I wonder what would happen if I went back and chased that dream again - swimming from Cuba to Key West.  I had it my whole live.  I tried to make it in 1978, and I'm the one who said "you could not pay me to do another lap in the ocean, lake, anywhere" - if I could go back.  So I started training secrelty.  And one day I looked in the mirror and said you know what?  If you want it, you should go for it.

When I walk up on that beach, yeah, it's going to be an athletic feat, but I want it to be a statement to myself and to all those other baby boomers out there - say 60 is not old.  90 is old - a time to get into a rocking chair and look out on the horizon and look back on your life.  60 is a time to be strong and I want to be an example to all other people my age.

Will you wear a conventional swimsuit? Could you wear some sort of neoprene wetsuit to avoid hypothermia? And, what are the best goggles you've found for swimming (mine always fog up!) Thanks.

You're not allowed to wear a wetsuti until triathalons.  I'm experiementing with trying some of the longer sprint-type bathing suits that the Olympians wear. But I don't want them in the beginning.  The first half the issue is dehydration.  Long suits are hot and chaffe.  If I'm really cold the second half issue will be hypothermia - but the issue will be how to get it on.  I don't know what I'm goign to do yet.  We have a solar shower - like a big plastic bladder that they lay on the deck all day long.  That sea water heats up and I'm allowed to swim close to the boat and try to get warm.  It gives some relief for a second, but you start swimming again and you get cold again.  The water is colder than your body temperature.  So I'm going to get cold.

What do you say to people who think pursuing this swim is reckless and crazy?

I havne't heard that yet, but I don't know what's reckless about it.  Reckless is when you do something in a hasty and unintelligant manner.  I confered with the smartest and most expert people in the world - in the sharks, current, everything.  That's not reckless.  Reckless is going to climb Mt. Everest with no training whatsoever.  There's nothing reckless about this.

After being such an incredible endurance champion, you didn't swim for quite a long time. Why did you give it up? Were you burned out on the sport? How does swimming feel to you now?

Yes, swimming is probably the ultimate of burnout sports.  IT's ironic because millions of people who swim as their regular exercise love the meditation aspect of it, you don't wind up with any orthopedic injuries.  But when you swim at a world class level for hours and hours - the loniness of the long distance runner.  In swimming, especially trianing out in the ocean and open water, you got fogged over googles, you're stuck with your own thoughts - there's great benefits to that, deep thinking like that after many hours, but there' also tremendous lonliness.  You burn out.  You want to run, jump, ski, do anything.  So at age 30, I was finished.  And a lot of swimmer feel the same way.  I'm more surprised than anyone that I came back to it, and I actually sort of fasinated to be back at it. Gliding across the surface and feeling the power at this age - I must say I'm actually enjoying the process of it and proud of my body being able to do this at this age. 

I'm not coming back to marathon swimming though, day in and day out. 

I assume you will be swimming mostly freestyle/crawl. Do you think you might change strokes during the swim to give some muscles a rest and work other muscles? Isn't it hard to see where you are going in open water?

I never switch strokes.  I'm trying to go to A and B most efficiently and fast as possible.  Anything else isn't going to get me there, so I don't know aobut muscles getting rest.  I train muscles to swim freestyle for

I don't look ahead - there's boats with my doctors and teams, but I breathe to the left 60 times a minute and when I do that I see the boat over there that serves as a guide.  If it's way to the right I know I'm too far away and need to come back.

What is your biggest fear?

The cold.  It's hard for people to image.  If the water is 85 degress,  you think it'd be more refreshing if it was a couple of degrees colder.  Imagine being in a bath, relaxing.  85 degree water feels nice at first, but the longer you're in the bathtub the colder the water gets because your body is adjusting to it.  That's how it is in the ocean.  Then you start losing weight and getting fatigued, etc.  After two days of swimming that 85 doesn't feel warm anymore.  It feels cold.

There's plenty of things to worry about - the endurance.  But the one that worries me the most though is getting cold.  Hypothermia.

Turning 40 this year hasn't meant anything, but whenever an age bothers me I will think of you and be inspired, no matter how the swim turns out. That said, I believe you'll make it.

Well that's the kind of support that really makes my day.  You know, age is such a funny thing. If you know people from the East they're always so perplexed why we Americans are so focused on our birthdays.  They really don't look at it in other cultures like we do - a defining moment, a way of being.  I think certainly though in any culture at age 60 you have a clear perspective on how fast it all goes by.  My mother just died at 82, and I feel young at 60 and 61. But we're going to blink and we'll be 81...just liked we were 41, blinked, and are now 61.  That's how precious this life is.

I thank everyone so much for showing so much support and interest.  You can't believe it, but it means a lot when you're out there in the loney ocean. 

In This Chat
Diana Nyad
Diana Nyad is an endurance swimmer who first tried to swim from Cuba to Key West 32 years ago, but was deterred after over 70 miles of swimming due to poor weather conditions. She is now preparing to make her second attempt at the swim at age 61.
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