A few weeks ago we reported on 61-year-old Diana Nyad‘s quest to be the only person to swim without a shark tank on a 103-mile journey from Cuba to Key West. While she failed to meet that goal and abandoned the ocean after swimming for 29 hours this week, Nyad is anything but a quitter.
In a phone interview with the New York Times, she explained how a grueling shoulder injury and asthma caused her to stop:
It was my decision to stop and nobody else’s. I’m deeply grieved and disappointed, but I can hold my head up high. We pictured that moment of me crawling up on that Key West shore. We knew it was my year and my time, even at 61.
The disappointed swimmer added:
It was a fairy tale, but the fairy tale didn’t come true. It was over, I knew it. My body was at the absolute very end. Willpower wasn’t a part of it anymore.
After so much publicity, hype and excitement surrounding her quest, Nyad’s spirits are low. But whose wouldn’t be? Anyone who’s ever attempted anything far outside their comfort zone knows the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But even though this defeat was one that Nyad says she chose, it doesn’t mean she quit.
In our book, a quitter is someone who stops when the going gets tough, simply because it’s hard. (By ‘hard’ we don’t mean medical conditions, extreme weather, or factors outside of our own control.)
Personally, I’ve been there, and Nyad’s right—there comes a point where it’s not about willpower anymore. You can’t will yourself to do something your body is incapable of doing on that particular day.
There’s a similar correlation to running a marathon. I always find it amusing when someone says running is is 90% mental: Obviously, they’ve never run a marathon. Yes, mental muscle is a big part of it, but your body plays a much bigger role. It has to have the training, conditioning, stamina, energy and mechanics to complete a lofty goal like 26.2 miles. And often, our race results are as much a factor of the day—whether it’s the day that all those factors come together perfectly or the one when our chemistry just seems to fall apart—because each day is different and you never know what you’re going to get. Nyad, unfortunately, just didn’t have the perfect day.
Even so, we say: Job well done. Swimming for 29 hours in the open water is more than I can imagine. You inspire us.