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The NASA Space Program, A Swimmer's Dream & the Victorious Spirit


I have always been captivated and inspired by our space program. In fact, July marked the 45 th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the historic and outstanding achievement of landing on the moon. It reminds me that the impossible is always possible.

Similar to the Apollo Mission's success is Diana Nyad, the iconic endurance swimmer and keynote speaker at the recent American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine meeting in Seattle. Her amazing life, inspiring words and incredible accomplishments captivated me and all who attended. I was impressed by her Victorious spirit and her commitment to the Win Within over her lifetime. Her story is a special one because it reinforces to us all that life is about taking part and not about the win. It is process over outcome and journey over destination.

As a young girl, Diana began swimming as a sport, but family challenges and adversity created a disciplined and insatiable passion to be her personal best and compete in the Olympics. She fiercely trained and integrated workout programs that brought her to Olympic performance levels, but she fell just shy of qualifying. But out of this adversity came an unimagined opportunity. Diana had learned that her real strength was not in short races but in long distance and endurance swimming. At the age of 30, Diana gained fame by swimming around Manhattan in record time, something which afforded her opportunities to become an author and broadcaster.

With her newfound prospects, Diana left endurance swimming for the next 30 years. Then at age 60, she had a vision and a dream to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida - something no one had ever successfully done before. In a way, her vision reminds me of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1961 proclaiming that the USA would successfully land on the moon and return safely by the end of the decade. It had never been done before, but we as a nation were called to have collective faith that it would.

Massive teams of pilots, engineers, administrators and government agencies were assembled to work as one unit to achieve what no one thought possible. Having realized major successes and crushing failures with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, the space program's collective Win Within resulted in Neal Armstrong and the Apollo 11 taking that historic "one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind" on July 20, 1969. It changed the plight of humanity.

The unique clarity of Diana Nyad's vision came at a time when most of her generation was slowing down and transitioning towards retirement. Analogous to JFK and the space program, she developed a Mission, Vision and Plan to accomplish her goal. An aging body, jellyfish, sharks, tides, winds, currents and 100 miles of swimming were the comprehensive challenges that she faced. Diana systematically developed a team of orthopedic and sports medicine specialists, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, oceanographers, marine biologists, sailors, coaches and many others to develop a master plan for accomplishing her goal. She trained intensively for at least 12 hours a day in the pool and lifted weights which transformed her mind and body as she inched closer to achieving her dream. She had tried and failed to complete her goal four different times. Her team considered shark and jellyfish sting repellents, massive currents, and winds, not withstanding the over 50 hours of endurance and painful swimming. But on her fifth try Diana succeeded and she completed the swim to the beaches of Key West, Florida. What an extraordinary feat with all of its trials and tribulations.

Let us celebrate these two iconic events in our lifetime. One by recognizing our country as it marshalled all of its leadership, teamwork, resources and expertise. The other by honoring a woman whose victorious spirit demonstrated repeatedly that any of us can make their mark on humanity. The requirement? Tenacity, stick-to-it-iveness and believing against all odds.

Together, we will continue to learn that the WIN is within!

~ Bert

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