Chasing Impossible Dreams

Earlier this week, Diana Nyad went into the water again. Way back in March I wrote a blog post about the swimmer's amazing accomplishments. (You can read it here: http://mamommyarchives.blogspot.com/2012/03/throwing-in-towel.html) To sum it up, she is trying to swim from Cuba to Florida. She is 62 years old. She swims without a shark cage, gets stung by numerous jellyfish along the way, risks hypothermia; all of this to prove a point, that there is life after 60. She is amazing, an inspiration to thousands of women and athletes all around the world. Every time she has attempted this swim (this week was her third try) I have been impressed all over again.

And yet...

With all due respect to this incredible woman, she needs to stop.

I don't mean that she needs to stop swimming. I plan on doing martial arts until the day I die. When I am too old and my body is too beat up from years of sparring I will simply sit atop a mountain and do katas in my head. So by all means Diana, swim. Swim every day. Swim across rivers and pools and oceans. Even better, teach little children to swim so they too can find the joy in the water that you have. But please stop trying to do this particular swim. It has gotten too painful to watch.

It is great to dream big. The problem with Diana's dream is it is too big. I am not saying she can't swim that far because she probably can. Just that, despite a will as fierce as a hurricane, the thing she has chosen to do may be impossible, or at least impossible to do safely. She will get stung too many times. Or her body temperature will drop too low for too long. Or she will be unable to adapt to unpredictable weather conditions. She won't quit (she is as stubborn and tenacious as a four year old) but her team will most likely have to pull her out of the water in order to save her from herself.

To be honest, thinking about Diana Nyad's quest puts me in an awkward spot. I am a martial artist. I teach children to push themselves hard, to never say "I can't". I live my life this way, stubborn and aggressive.  It is how I got my black belt. It is how I birthed a baby. It is how I can have someone double my size wrap his leg around my neck in an attempt to choke me and still have a smile on my face. So I get you Diana, I do. But the problem with setting such an extreme goal for yourself is that you will inevitably be faced with a difficult decision. How many times should I try, and fail, before giving up? Or do I just keep trying forever. Am I satisfied with the amazing climb or am I disappointed that I didn't see the view from the top?

I wrote all this early Tuesday morning. Then, from her blog:, at 9:20am EDT: "Stroking longer and farther than in any of her four attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida, Diana called an end to it early this morning (Tuesday), one day before her 63rd birthday. It took Mother Nature’s biggest force—the weather—to get her out of the water (a second storm cell even larger than the first), but nature’s arsenal for her was out full force throughout her 41-hour endeavor (41 hours, 45 minutes in the water)."

I won't say it.


To be clear, Diana wanted to go back in. She was capable of swimming for hours more. "Fully alert and articulate, she asked, “When can I get back in? I want full transparency that I was out. But I have plenty left in me and I want to go on.” Thankfully she has a team whose entire job is to keep her from killing herself. My heart aches for her. Losing sucks. She should feel proud of herself just for trying. She is an incredible athlete regardless of the outcome of this swim. All true, yet I sound like I am talking to my four year old daughter. Perhaps there is something to that.

While writing this post, I did a Google search for inspirational quotes, ones that would drive my point home. I found none. Everyone talks about going for the gold, reaching for the stars, falling down seven times and getting up eight. Never quit. Ever. I guess no one wants to give a graduation speech about that pinnacle moment in life when you know it is time to throw in the towel.

What do I learn from Diana Nyad? That when I am 62 I may still be able to pull off a successful triangle choke. That you should push hard, harder than you ever thought you could. That when you do amazing things like swim in the middle of the ocean, 50 dolphins may show up to accompany you on your journey.

Also, that you should set the bar really high for yourself...but perhaps not so high that there is no possible way you will ever get there. Ms. Nyad, I think you are absolutely amazing. But it is time to reassess your purpose in life. It is time to find a new road, or in this case, a new current, to travel upon. Not because you can't do it, but because there is a fine line between perseverance and obsession.

They say that winners never quit and quitters never win. But sometimes, they should. Quit that is. Put it this way, even the best card players in the world know when it is time to fold their hand.


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