In March, EverWalk proudly launched the 110.86 Mile Club — our virtual walking program with walkers from all over the world. We named our club after the distance I swam from Cuba to Key West. Accompanying each milestone was an email describing my journey. For those of you who missed out, I wanted to share it with you here — in this three-part blog. This is the final part.
As Bonnie tells it: “In the end it took Diana 53 hours during which she never slept or got onto her boat, or even held onto the boat, while covering a distance of 110.86 miles – more than five times the length of the famed English Channel swim. The sport’s rules allow a swimmer to tread water, with no help either staying afloat nor moving forward, and receive nutrients or medical attention from the hands of doctors and her Handler Team.”
Bonnie at Hour 42: “Diana was delirious and we couldn’t break her from stopping, treading a long time, believing at one time she was seeing the Taj Majal floating out with us. I whistled, I pleaded, I couldn’t penetrate her hallucination state. I blew the whistle in a sharp command, our signal for SHARK. She stopped and listened. I knew she needed a boost, to understate it. Over a slow five minutes, in the pitch of night, I had her feather up and finally see the hope she needed so badly glistening across the horizon. After a long, slow conversation, she understood that THOSE WERE THE LIGHTS OF KEY WEST.”
That was the turning point for me. I had been hanging on by a thread, unable to fathom what it was we were all doing out there. Bonnie waking me up to that faraway vision of the lights of Key West put me and the whole team right. It turned out I had some fifteen more hours to swim at that point but now I had the long-imagined other shore in my mind’s eye. The whole team got back to their jobs. No mistakes after now coming so close.
Key West is the southernmost point in the United States — lying 150 miles south of mainland Florida and at the tail end of the Florida Keys.
“Discovered” by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1521 on his search for the Fountain of Youth, the island was named Cayo Hueso or Bone Island. It morphed into Key West because that’s what later English settlers who appropriated the territory thought the Spanish words sounded like. It became part of the United States in 1822.
Key West has had a rich and varied history — and has long been home to free spirits, iconoclasts, writers and artists such as Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. President Harry S. Truman loved Key West — and now, of course, Key West is also known as Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
Now a popular destination spot, Key West features a wonderful mix of the weird and wonderful, the historic and the hilarious. And also, of course, the courageous. How humble, how honored I am now, to have my history inextricably and forever linked with Key West.
As described in The Guardian, “When she staggered on to the shore at Key West, her 64-year-old body barely able to walk, her face wrinkled and swollen with salt, hardly able to speak, she looked less like a world-class athlete and more like the survivor of some horrific disaster. And, in effect, she was.”
From another reporter on the scene: “There to hold her and support and her — as she always has been — was Bonnie, who literally for the 53 hours Diana swam stood sentry on her boat, leaning over now and then to urinate. Some might call these two the Thelma and Louise of their era.”
I remember coming out and seeing the faces of the crowd on the beach just so emotionally wrought. I realized afterwards, they weren’t weeping because somebody finally made it or somebody set some sports record. They were weeping because they saw someone who refused to give up. And everyone has experience of that, whether it’s fighting cancer or raising a difficult child or whatever hurdle one faces. If we just don’t give up, we make it to our other shore.”
In the end, I proved to myself what I knew along: This was not really about achieving a pinnacle in sports history at all. This was about withstanding, enduring. This was an epic life experience, not a sports event.
When our EverWalk Nation completed our first 110.86 Mile Club, I was elated! It has been a dream for me to share this experience with walkers — and they wanted the same 110.86 miles I tried and tried and tried and then finally swam from Cuba to Key West. (Frankly, it was a heck of lot easier this way.)
Although our EverWalkers erre not covering these 110.86 miles battling currents and jellyfish and exhaustion, it still takes grit and determination to pursue the challenge of this mammoth number of miles in one month. We here at EverWalk Central stand and cheer for every one mile any of you walk.
But there is admittedly a cherry on top the celebration when you cover 110.86 miles in a month. You are averaging 3.4 miles per day. Miss one day? Easy to figure out. You’ll need one day at about 7.
Some days can be tough. The body asks you to rest. Your spirit needs recharging. But you ponder how much joy every walk brings you and you take both body and spirit out the door.
No matter your monthly mileage, we’ve all chosen walking for our physical, emotional lives of adventure and imagining. And joining this club makes you what we call a dedicated walker. A veritable badass.
The order of events was that EverWalk came directly out of the Cuba experience. After all the hoopla and publicity died down, Bonnie and I knew that we wanted to keep that inspirational energy that had touched so many individuals around the world.
We read so much about how Americans are becoming more and more obese and more sedentary. But we also came to experience the empowerment, the opening of the spirit, that comes with walking down a long road. And so we started EverWalk — and five years later, here we all are virtually walking the world together.
Thank you for creating EverWalk Nation with us. Thank you for walking the earth with us. Thank you for sharing your joy in walking with us.
Here’s to our next 110.86 miles together. . .
About Diana Nyad:
A prominent sports journalist, filing for National Public Radio, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, The New York Times and others, Diana has carved her place as one of our compelling storytellers and sought-after public speakers.