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Let’s go back before Sept. 2, 2013, back before Diana Nyad made history by becoming the first person to swim from Havana to Key West without a shark tank.
That’s before Nyad became known the world over as a swimming champion. Before the city put up a special marker honoring her record-setting 111-mile swim through the treacherous Florida Straits, with its sharks and jellyfish and waves and winds, which she braved as she tread – and swallowed – saltwater, enduring 53 hours in the ocean.
Before 2013, Nyad made perennial attempts to complete the massive swim, which she says demanded every ounce of her. But she kept failing. She failed four times.
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She became known as the one who couldn’t make it. But on the fifth try, Nyad, at age 64, and her support team emerged from the ocean on Smathers Beach in Key West as thousands had gathered to cheer her on that Labor Day.
“It’s not hyperbole to say in some moments out there it was life or death,” Nyad said Sunday, having landed in Key West the night before in advance of a theatrical performance, called “The Courage to Fail.”
“It was Mother Nature on steroids,” Nyad added.
Having the courage to fail is the most courageous act thing, she said.
‘If somebody hands you success on a platter, that doesn’t take much courage,” she said. “If you’re sure failure is the outcome that takes a lot of courage, especially when you’re doing it in public.”
“The Courage to Fail” debuts Wednesday at 7 p.m. at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.
The show, an evening of storytelling, features her trainer and right-hand during the spectacular swim, Bonnie Stoll, who will provide narration as Nyad relives the swim.
But Nyad wants to veer away from the Cuba swim. She has more to say.
“I don’t want that to be the only story I tell,” said Nyad.
She chose Key West, which she affectionately calls her old haunt, as the place to reveal the new material.
Nyad today makes a living in public speaking and has a new memoir out, “Find a Way.” But she remains committed to inspiring people to get and stay fit.
Post-Cuba swim, she and Stoll launched EverWalk, a program to urge people to start walking at least three times a week and then join up with teams and group walks.
In Key West this week, she and Stoll are leading a 10-mile walk daily.
Retirement, or as she calls it, deciding to just hang out somewhere, isn’t on her to-do list.
“I don’t pretend to be some other age,” said Nyad, who will turn 70 in August. “I speak for millions my age. We are a new generation of people going into their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. I have a lot of vitality left.”
Nyad doesn’t spend time wondering what she would have done if 2013 had turned into just another failure. A little boy in Brooklyn, however, once pushed her to answer the question: Would you have tried again? She gave him an answer.
“Let’s say, yes, I would have gone until there was no more grace left and it was wasting everybody’s time,” she said. “The journey was still worthwhile even if I was pretty sure it was going to fail. It takes courage to set a bar so high that your chance of failing is so great.”