Swimmer Diana Nyad is known for her staggering feats of endurance, including becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage—which she accomplished at the age of 64. Recently, she revealed her painful #MeToo experience, sharing that her swim coach had abused her as a teenager. Your Teen talked with her about both of her experiences, plus her latest inspiring work with EverWalk, an initiative that encourages people of all ages to commit to walking at least three times a week.
Q: What inspired you to do this huge swim?
Nyad: I’ve always had Cuba in my imagination. When I was younger, I said to my mom, “Where is Cuba? I know it’s right out there somewhere, but I can’t see it,” and she said, “It’s right there; as a matter of fact, it’s so close, you little swimmer, you could almost swim there.” Kids get these things in their brains, and that was bubbling in my brain for 20 years until I became a real, bona fide ocean swimmer.
Q: What about the sharks?
Nyad: We had divers who put my life ahead of theirs to dive under me in the pitch-black all night, and if they saw those fluorescent eyes and something coming up toward them—which they do occasionally—they just punch them in their sensitive snouts to trap them.
Q: How do you overcome moments when you want to quit?
Nyad: We all know that there are a lot of obstacles out there; that’s why no one has ever done this. The best swimmers in the world have tried. You just don’t say, I don’t feel like it, I’m just not up to it. You do it. You do it to the nth degree.
Q: Can you tell me about how the #MeToo movement has impacted you? You revealed that you were sexually abused by a swim coach.
Nyad: What’s so gratifying is that since the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein story, there are women who are now believed. They’re not silenced and shut up and put back in the corner. I’m clearly one of millions, but I’m here to stand up. I’m here to tell my story and to try to create platforms for other people to feel their power, tell their story, and get their justice if they can. There was no support before.
Q: Are elite athletes more vulnerable to sexual assault because of the close, trusting relationship with a coach?
Nyad: You could say the same about a relationship with a priest. Every young person has a special relationship, usually, with somebody older, and some of those people have no sense of morals or ethics.
Q: How do we tell our kids to defy authority—especially in situations where they know what’s at stake, and they know what they risk losing?
Nyad: They have grown up hearing that they should run from strangers. Don’t engage with them, don’t allow them to take you by the hand. We didn’t discuss that when I was growing up. Our whole society is changing in terms of the coaches, preachers, teachers, stepfathers. If there’s a sideways move, and it’s not normal, you are more likely to recognize it.
Q: Shifting gears a bit, can you tell us about EverWalk?
Nyad: My Cuba Swim expedition leader Bonnie Stoll and I sat around thinking: How can we lead people on some kind of quest that would give them the same feeling of empowerment? We call it EverWalk—everybody, every day, all the time. EverWalk is about more everyday walking, but it also hosts longer events.
Q: How many miles are those walks?
Nyad: Our first was 134 miles over seven days. The people that we walk with have to train—they treat it like a sport, but it’s doable.
Q: Would you recommend EverWalk for teenagers?
Nyad: In your teenage years, you don’t want to make eye contact at the dinner table. Many parents tell us that when they walk with their teenager, they have real talks about what’s going on. The conversation is better than when they sat down to talk eye-to-eye.
Q: Is there any final message you’d like to leave our readers with?
Nyad: I am not out to proselytize and tell people that they could live a better life if they live it the way I do. Instead, I go around with this moment of opportunity to speak to people. My whole point is that you live fulfilled with your life and who you are and what you want to do with the time you have.