Saturday, September 7, 2013

True Grit: Diana Nyad

Much has already been said about Diana Nyad's amazing swim from Cuba to Key West and many stories will evolve from her accomplishment and methods.  But at the clearest level she proved that perseverance and big dreams can transcend age, injury and setback.  This to me is the definition of true grit.

In a Boston Globe article called 'The Truth About Grit', Jonah Lehrer traced the research that links a successful scientific result with the effort required to produce that successful result.  I wrote about his article a few years ago in reference to learning, but it's appropriate in this context as well.

In Lehrer's article he noted that the celebration of the moment often overshadows the goals, discipline, effort and stick-to-itiveness that is actually required for success.  He goes on to state that researchers are quick to point out that grit isn't simply the willingness to work hard.  Instead, it's about setting a specific long term goal and doing whatever it takes until that goal has been achieved.  It's always much easier to give up, but people with grit keep going well after others might have conceded.

So after thirty-five years and five attempts, Diana did just keep going and accomplished her goal.  As reported by Lizette Alvarez in the New York Times in her interview, Nyad had three messages.

"One is we should never, ever give up.  Two is you are never too old to chase your dreams.  Three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team."
During the grueling journey, she maintained focus as she always has done, by humming her favorite songs in her head.  With a reported song list of over eighty songs, including the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Neil Young and others, her strokes were calibrated to the cadence of these songs.  From tunes like 'Ticket to Ride' and 'Paperback Writer', she got the positive distraction needed to keep both her body and mind going.  Sheer will power carried her across the straits.

The day after the swim the Boston Globe's Reflection for the Day was a quote from the late Pulitzer Prize poet, James Wright.  I'm sure Wright wasn't thinking about swimming in his comment, but the timing and sentiment is perfect for Diana's strategy and preparation.

'You can endure almost anything as long as you can sing about it.'

This interest in the power of music makes me wonder - did Diana perhaps have the Beatle's 'When I'm Sixty-Four' on her hum list?  The timing would have been just right.  Diana's triumph sends an inspirational life message to aging baby boomers and all who will listen.

'If something really is important to your heart, you look and see what's inside yourself and you find a way.'