Diana Nyad has “Broadway lights” on her mind. The celebrated endurance swimmer, who, after four failed attempts over 35 years, completed her long journey – in 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18 seconds – from the rocky shoreline of Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Fla., on Labor Day, is eyeing a new horizon.
“I’m a versatile person, and I do have other talents, and do tell stories well from stage,” Nyad told ABC News. “Just because I think big, it’s so audacious of me to sit here today and say, ‘I’m gonna make it to Broadway!’”
The 64-year-old began a life of lengthy swims in the early 1970s when an illness, injury and middling sprint times drowned dreams of Olympic glory. "I haven't come close to my potential in marathon swimming yet,” she said in a 1971 Sports Illustrated profile, “but I'd trade all of what I'm going to be for an Olympic gold medal.”
Hearing those words read back today, Nyad raised her eyebrows. Her wide, wild smile disappeared.
“I don’t know the young person who said that,” she deadpanned. “Obviously, I don’t feel the same way.”
And just as quickly, she’s back. Nyad’s energy, depleted but never defeated during nearly 53 hours in the ocean, where she battled angry sea swells, saltwater flooding her lungs, unfriendly currents, and the threat of poisonous jellyfish stings and a shark attack, transcends sports. So when she’s not training, Nyad travels the country delivering motivational speeches. She has delivered a TED Talk about “how to prepare mentally to achieve an extreme dream.”
Her successful crossing of the Florida Straits, without a shark cage, was the first of its kind.
“These long ultra-endurance swims are a little bit of a microcosm of life. You never take anything for granted. You feel great in your life, you’re swinging the tiger by the tail and whatnot, but is it going to be the same tomorrow? Or next week? Or next year? Maybe not. Could even be probably not. You just lap it up right now, because it’s what you got,” she said, gaining steam.
“So if I’m swimming along in that first hour and it’s like glass right off of Cuba, which it was, and I’m feeling like poetry in motion, I don’t say to myself, ‘Whoa! This is going to be for the next two days! Day and night and day and night and I’m just going to cruise.’ No! I know that it’s going to change, which it did. Winds came up and I was throwing my guts up through that first night because I was taking in water through that jellyfish mask. Oh my god! Are you kidding me? I got tomorrow and then the next day and two nights, maybe three nights! Forget about that. Just make it through the day. … That’s the way I divide it up: Day and night, day and night.”
It’s a monologue, a story, which seems destined for the stage. The only question is where. Nyad, naming Broadway power player Joel Grey as her preference, is looking for a producer to lead her down the Great White Way.
ABC News' Luis Yordán and Nick Poppy contributed to this episode.
- Diana Nyad