Several weeks ago, a 64-year-old swimmer named Diana Nyad stumbled out of the water hungry, exhausted, and with a sense of accomplishment. A crowd of family, friends and fans were there to greet her, along with a mass of people taking her picture.
Nyad hadn’t just finished a race or even the competitive mile that instills fear in most swimmers — she had spent 53 hours in the water, swimming 110 miles from Cuba to the United States.
Nyad first gained fame in the 1970s as one of the first women to swim around Manhattan, according to a recent CNN article. In the late ‘70s, Nyad trained to swim from Cuba to Florida, but failed her first attempt. The emerging political climate between Cuba and the US prevented Nyad from attempting the swim again, although she did set a world record in 1979 when she swam approximately 102 miles from Bimini to Florida.
Several years ago, Nyad announced on her website and Facebook page that she planned to train for the Cuba-to-Florida swim again, despite being in her 60s. In early September, she succeeded on her fifth attempt.
“I think the accomplishment is simply amazing and eye opening to what can be done,” said Neil Virtue, the Mills College swim coach, in an email. “It blows my mind to think about swimming that far, in the open ocean with creatures and currents and being immersed in salt water for the amount of time she was.”
Like many across the nation, Mills students were inspired by Nyad’s success.
“I was just really excited because it really shows how the first time you do it doesn’t necessarily have to be the last,” said Casey Henggeler, a first-year who is a member of the swim team. “You can always keep trying and it’ll happen.”
Junior Gaby Amberchan, also a member of the swim team, had a similar reaction.
“I think what Diana Nyad did was really remarkable, especially since she had attempted this swim several times before and couldn’t finish it,” Amberchan said in an email.
Nyad was in her late twenties when she first attempted the Cuba swim and completed the Bimini to Florida swim. She was 60 when she decided to train for the Cuba swim again, and is now 64.
“I think it’s really amazing, considering our society I think in general has a lot of disrespect towards the physical abilities of women, especially older women in her age range,” junior Megan Rue said. “I think she probably gave a big boost to people … who are still trying to accomplish their goals.”
But since Nyad’s completion of her swim, the media has raised questions as to whether or not it was falsified.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Henggeler said of the accusations. “I don’t know how you would possibly cheat on something like that. It’s an open-water swim, there’s no cheating. If anything it’s harder because you’re going not in a straight line because of the current.”
Rue felt that the accusations has more to do with Nyad being an older woman.
“I don’t know if the accusations would have come in if it had been someone else who accomplished this,” Rue said.
According to an article by the Associated Press, some critics noted that Nyad’s speed picked up at certain times, and suggested that she may have held onto the boat. However, the same article stated that an oceanography professor at the University of Miami analyzed data and confirmed that ocean currents would account for Nyad’s increase in speed.
Despite the controversy surrounding the swim, many Mills students, as well as people across the nation — and the world — agree that Diana Nyad’s feat serves as a tale of inspiration to both the old and the young, and to both swimmers and non-swimmers. Nyad has proven that anything is possible, regardless of how extreme or difficult, and that failure does not mean you must quit.
As Nyad told CNN, “You tell me what your dreams are. What are you chasing? It’s not impossible. Name it.”