Endurance swimmer tells kids, ‘Never, ever give up!’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who made headlines around the world when she swam from Cuba to Miami this past summer, was treated like a rock star when she paid a visit – this time on dry land – to a Bay Ridge elementary school Thursday afternoon.
Screams, shouts, cheers and wild applause from hundreds of children greeted Nyad, 64, as she entered the auditorium at PS 185 on Ridge Boulevard for a special assembly in her honor. Kids reached out their hands to her and Nyad high-fived several youngsters as she walked down the center aisle to a hero’s welcome. Once she got to the front of the auditorium, the trim and athletic Nyad jumped up on the stage, eschewing the stairs.
Nyad, who lives in California, came to the school after learning that the students had spent this semester studying her thrilling swim from Cuba to the U.S. She was invited to come to PS 185 by Principal Kenneth Llinas, who said he wanted his students to meet a real, live hero who could teach them important life lessons.
“You’ve honored me so much with your respect,” she told the students.
When Nyad came ashore in Florida in early September, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. The marathon swim took Nyad just under 53 hours to complete.
It was her fifth try in 35 years. She had failed to complete the swim on four previous tries but never gave up her dream of swimming from Cuba to the US.
Nyad said she was happy that her journey in the water, for which she received worldwide media attention, has served as an inspiration to millions of people. When she came out of the water, she stated that she wanted her fellow Baby Boomers to know that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
Her biggest hope, she said, is that people will use the inspiration they felt from her story to pursue dreams in their own lives. “You can do anything you want, but you have to believe,” she told the students.
Her other message? “Never, ever give up!” she said.
Overcoming hardships along the way in life is difficult, but it can be done, she said. “Nothing worthwhile in life is easy,” Nyad said. “I failed four times,” she said.
The students asked her what it was like to swim in shark-infested waters without a protective cage. It was hard, she said. Between the sharks, the jelly fish, and the turbulent water currents, “I’m lucky I lived through it,” Nyad said. At one point during the swim, she was so exhausted that she started hallucinating, she candidly told the kids. She thought she was seeing the Taj Mahal on the horizon.
The youngsters also asked her about her life and how long she had been a swimmer. She has been swimming since she was five years old, she said.
Nyad, who came to the school fresh from an interview with Katie Couric, said she was enjoying her newfound celebrity. She plans to write a book about her life.
Nyad told the students that her visit to PS 185 meant a great deal to her. “You know, I’ve been to the Oval Office where I had the pleasure of meeting President Obama. I’ve been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. I have signed a book deal. I just want you to know that this day means as much to me as all of those other honors,” she told the students.
During the assembly, youngsters read poems and essays aloud in tribute to her. At the end of the festivities, John Alexander, president of the student body, and Catherine Anderson, the vice president, presented Nyad with a bouquet of flowers and a scrapbook commemorating her visit to their school.
“She was really great,” John told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. What lesson did he learn from her? “Never, ever give up,” he said, repeating her mantra.
At a reception in the school library prior to the school assembly, Nyad met with Llinas, teachers, parents, and state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn). She confessed to being overwhelmed by the fact that her story has touched so many people. “I knew the Baby Boomers were inspired. But the kids understand the meaning of it, too,” she said.
Llinas said students studied several aspects of Nyad’s swim, including calculating the miles between Cuba and the U.S., learning about the types of fish in the water, and the importance of willpower.
Nyad also spent time in the library autographing baseball caps emblazoned with the slogan "Hero of the Year" for the students before heading to the auditorium for the assembly.