Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Diana Nyad's XtremeDream: On Age, Goals and Endurance

Diana Nyad's successful 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida this week reminds us that age need not get in the way of achieving monumental acts of physical endurance. In fact, age may even be an asset. Success in endurance athletics is mainly the result of mental stamina and this is a quality that often improves over time. Given so many opportunities to throw in the towel, it's those that persist despite blinding pain and suffering who eventually succeed. We're wise to remember ultra cyclist Lon Haldeman's advice, "if you think the pain will go away within two weeks, keep riding."

The most amazing lesson from Nyad's achievement may not be the swim itself, but rather her persistence in completing it. Don't get me wrong, swimming for 54 hours straight is nothing to sneeze at, but hammering away at a goal for 35 years and making the attempt FIVE times is a remarkable lesson for us all. At age 64, Nyad's achievement will inspire many to do crazy things they barely believe possible, and if they fail, they will see the value of trying again and again and again. As she reminded us upon reaching Key West, "never, ever give up."

Anyone familiar with randonneuring knows that age is often an asset. The emphasis in our sport is not on who finishes first, yet it is not uncommon for the tortoise to beat the hare over great distances by bringing wisdom and careful planning to bear. Anticipating and avoiding show-stopping problems helps as does developing the patience and persistence to complete our "extreme dreams."

Think about it: what if we actually get better with age? It's counterintuitive in our youth-obsessed culture, yet Diana Nyad is a shining example of what's possible if we persist. The best thing about setting and committing to goals of great magnitude is that they are deeply personal  As Nyad remarked, "I swam from Cuba to Florida and no one can take that away from me." I know that I'll be thinking of her achievement as I pedal through northern France in 2015, especially if the weather turns foul and my confidence begins to feel tenuous.