Super-swimmer Diana Nyad's story of resilience is having a rippling effect on South Floridians, inspiring them to complete new or old goals — in and out of the water.
Her "find a way" mantra and her feat — achieving her dream of swimming 110 miles from Cuba to Key West from Saturday to Monday at age 64 — has made many people rethink personal ambitions and decide to pursue them with the same gusto as Nyad.
At the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, where Nyad grew up, her historic exploit was water cooler buzz. Swimmers couldn't stop talking about her journey and her impact.
"At 64, it's incredible. Like she said, you are never too old,'' said Adrienne Chin-Ogilvie, 53, of Dania Beach, who swims three times a week at the Fort Lauderdale pool. "I would have given up after the first jellyfish sting."
Chin-Ogilvie competed in an open-water, 5-kilometer race five years ago in Miami Beach, but felt she was "too old" to try it again.
"For me, it was a one-time bucket list,'' she said. "After watching her, I am rethinking another 5-kilometer ocean swim. I am inspired to do another one because of her.''
But the marathon swimmer's can-do spirit isn't just inspiring athletes.
"For people who have a terminal sickness, she also gives you hope to wait for that magical cure, to keep fighting,'' said Fernanda Golod, of Coral Springs, an executive assistant who has had chronic lymphocytic leukemia for 10 years.
Golod said she's been following Nyad's journey since 2010 and sharing updates on Facebook. She cried when she learned that Nyad finished Monday.
"She is truly an example of what the human body can endure and how she can keep going thanks to the support of friends and people that believe in her and are by her side all the way until the end. Amazing!!"
Experts say Nyad's story resonates with everyday folks because it personifies the power of resolve and not letting go of a goal, whatever it may be.
"When we have a story like this woman's pursuit of not only once but over and over again [making the attempt] and finally succeeding, it fuels us to pursue our own dreams and goals and not give up and not see things as daunting and hopeless but rather as possible and achievable,'' Plantation psychologist Dr. William Penzer said.
An exhausted, sun-drenched and swollen Nyad emerged from the water in Key West on Monday after successfully swimming from Cuba to Florida in almost 53 hours (or 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds, to be exact). This was the former Pine Crest swimmer's fifth attempt since 1978, followed by three tries between 2011 and 2012 when such factors as the current and jellyfish attacks forced her to end her quest.
When she waded to shore this time, Nyad, who currently lives in Los Angeles, raised her fist skyward before a sea of supporters. She told the crowd: "I've got three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you're never too old to chase your dream. Three, swimming might seem like a solitary sport, but it takes a team."
Fort Lauderdale lifeguard David Read said he initially doubted Nyad would finish this time around.
"It was very inspiring ... Seeing her doing it, I realized that I am not doing all that I can to be prepared. She never gave up. I should quit making excuses,'' said Read, 45, who now plans to train harder for the World Master's Championships swimming competition in Canada next summer. "I did some self-reflection. If you want to do something, just go for it."
Fellow lifeguard Jennifer Noonan said Nyad inspires both young and older generations.
"To see a 64-year-old woman do 110 miles, it might make people think again about what they are doing in their own lives,'' said Noonan, 39, of Fort Lauderdale. "Not everyone will swim from Cuba to Key West, but maybe she will get people to reevaluate the decisions they made about themselves and their age. People hear 64 and that really sticks."
But how long can this feel-good afterglow last? Will those inspired today forget about it tomorrow?
Dr. Margarita Gurri, a psychologist in Davie, doesn't think so. "A courageous journey such as Diana Nyad's can spark the imagination and motivation of anyone forever."
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