Published on
The Guardian/UK

Why I Was Rooting for Diana Nyad

Thirty-three years after defeat, Diana Nyad tried to swim from Cuba to Florida. Her example helps us face our disappointments

Update: Nyad's swim is over. Early Tuesday morning, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad ended her second bid to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys. About half way, after a day and two nights of swimming, stroke after stroke, Nyad herself decided to end the effort, facing rising winds and a bullying current pushing her off course. Elaine Lafferty, aboard the safety boat, posted on Twitter at about 2am: "It's over. She lasted 29 hours in an heroic attempt."

So where do I go now with my "Xtreme Dream" hopes? The truth is, there are Xtreme Dreamers all over – from Cairo to Chile, from Ohio to London. And as one of Nyad's Twitter followers put it, "nothing beats a failure like a try." Public bravery like Nyad's prods us to exercise the muscle of believing – and heaven knows, we need practice.

Step Three: get into training; work.

Original article starts here:

I thought I'd never fall for a hope-peddler again, but I am rooting for Diana Nyad.

The world record-holding distance swimmer dove into the waters off Cuba at dusk on Sunday night. Her destination: Florida. One hundred and three miles, at least 60 hours and a shark-infested ocean away. Nyad turns 62 in a few weeks.

"It's not about sports; it's about hope," she's said. It's also about conquering her own demons. In 1978, at age 28, she tried the Havana to Key West swim for the first time, and her doctors pulled her out of the water after 42 hours and about 76 miles. High winds were buffeting her off course.

This time, the water's calm, the weather's temperate. Eighteen hours on, CNN's Matt Sloane reported that Nyad was fine, except for a bit of "shoulder pain and a touch of asthma". Dang!

It's what Nyad calls her "extreme dream", and, as I said, I'm rooting for her.

I'm even admitting it. Call it an exercise in recovering a willingness-to-believe. It's what we on the American left need after a bad case of Obama-Opti-Toxosis.


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You know it. Obama Opti-Toxosis is what a person's suffering when she or he's furious and depressed about the political lies she's been told but pretends she never believed those lies in the first place. Nope, not for an instant. Not even in 2008.

As part of my recovery, I'm on a two-step programme. Step one: I'm admitting I harboured hope. I hoped that the upsurge in excitement and organising around Barack Obama's long-shot candidacy for nomination and then his election would inspire other long-shot campaigns by regular Americans. Smart, long-shot campaigns around things like lifting the minimum wage, taxing corporations, getting private profiteers out of health care and – heck, yes – even bringing US troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan (not just recycling them as private contractors.)

I admit that I harboured hope that a crisis caused by a transfer of wealth and freedom – but not responsibility – upwards would spark a new conversation about fairness and economic common sense. I admit that I harboured hope that if our politicians wouldn't lead the charge to re-alance the power ratio, we the people would. I hoped, by now, we'd end what Barbara Ehrenreich ten years ago called the "nickel-and-diming" of America.

But we didn't do any of those things. And neither, of course, did Barack Obama. To the contrary, again today in his speech to "reassure" the markets, he once again affirmed his goals – and the only balancing he talked about is the balancing the budget.

A woman I know, who worked her whole life, just retired last month, at age 63. After 17 years at her last job at a metal factory in Michigan, she heard rumours of a raise in Medicare eligibility and emailed me furious: "How dare they? I worked in that factory almost 17 years in terrible working conditions. I'd say my pay went up only about five bucks in all those years. Started around five and got nearly ten when I finished. Cheap-ass people!"

And she voted for Obama, who said, "I'm on your side." And she's terrified for her life. And yet the hedge fund managers have their 15% tax brackets and the oil companies still enjoy their tax breaks. Americans are still not in the streets en masse. Who needs Standard & Poor's? For this alone, we should be downgraded as a democratic state.

Could the lack of rage and the quiet private despair be explained by a refusal to admit that we harboured hope in the first place? I think so – and that's why I'm admitting I harboured hope.

Step two: dare to believe in a long-shot, extreme dream. (Step three is, of course, work for it.)

I'm rooting for Diana Nyad.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media.

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