Last week, Diana Nyad emerged from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Key West and walked to the beach. Onlookers cheered and blew conch shells. Nyad had finally fulfilled her dream. She was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. It had been a long struggle.
Nyad had been trying to complete the swim for 35 years. Her first try was in 1978. She was 28 years old. Nyad is now 64. The venture has been her lifetime crusade.
Nyad made four unsuccessful attempts. She was stung by jellyfish and waylaid by a host of difficulties including storms, sharks and fierce ocean currents. She suffered a variety of ailments including hypothermia, hallucinations and nausea. She finally met success on her fifth try.
Her accomplishment has been hailed as the triumph of the human spirit. It has been cited as the ultimate example of persistence paying off. Many see Diana Nyad as a role model of courage and grit. The fact that she is a woman and senior citizen adds special significance to her victory. She has been an object of worldwide recognition. Congratulations are pouring in. President Obama tweeted her, “Never give up on your dreams.”
There are those, however, who view this victory as a tremendously misdirected waste of time and money. Nyad spent so much of her life in a quest to achieve this record. What if she had directed these efforts toward another goal?
Over the years, Nyad raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance the endeavor. Her last swim, alone, included a fleet of five boats and a support team of 35 people. Could this tremendous expenditure have been better used to benefit humanity? Who can say? Certainly sports and sport records are an important component in our culture that cannot be easily dismissed. The fields of art, poetry and music also have their champions and detractors.
We learn in Pirkei Avot, “Aize hu chacham, ha lomed mi kol adam” – who is wise, he who learns from everyone. There is a lot to learn from the perseverance and iron will demonstrated by Diana Nyad. Let us hope that our endeavors will benefit from some of the same incredible persistence she brought to her task and that our work will reflect worthy causes.
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