Swimming legend Diana Nyad, who made a record-setting solo swim to Cuba in 2013 when she was 64, said she’d been dreaming of reaching the impossible goal since she was 11.
Speaking at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, Nyad recalled how her mother told her that although they couldn’t see Cuba from the beach in Florida, it was “just over the horizon” and that, as she was already a champion athlete, “you could probably swim there.”
The swimmer’s epic feat is the subject of the Netflix feature “Nyad,” which stars Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her best friend and supporter, Bonnie Stoll.
Foster introduced keynote speaker Nyad at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit event and praised the athlete not just for accomplishing the 100-plus -mile swim, but for never giving up her quest.
“The reason that Diana is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met is not because she made that swim. It’s because she failed so many times over and over again for years on end. That kind of perseverance and mental toughness, it doesn’t always look pretty,” said the two-time Oscar winner.
“It can sometimes look like stubbornness, selfishness or delusions of grandeur,” said Foster. She described Nyad as someone who “greets life with big, open, voracious arms.”
When she was 5, Nyad’s father told her that their family name meant she was destined to become a champion swimmer and she took him at his word.
Her mother, however, was sure that Nyad’s destiny was to inspire others after her 11-year-old daughter gave a last-minute inspirational speech at her school. The young swimmer advised her classmates, “We only have about 70 years to live. And we’ve got to get with it… We’ve got to do everything we can. Now let’s get going.”
Nyad said that since the film’s Nov. 3 premiere on the streamer, she’s been hearing how much it has inspired people from all walks of life, and not just fellow athletes.
“Millions of people are responding all over the world and they’re saying, ‘I only wish I had that kind of resilience.’ They are people who are fighting cancer, who are raising a disabled child… And the story of this movie continues in helping them rise up and do all they can do and be all they can be,” she told the Power Women Summit audience.
Despite having already secured a place in the history books, Nyad quipped that she still has more she wants to accomplish. “I don’t want to live out the ‘Sunset Blvd.’ scenario eating bonbons and watching the Cuba footage and watching this movie for the rest of my life.”
She closed out her address by citing Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” “I needed it at at 64 and today at 74 I needed it again. Maybe you know those last two lines: ‘So I say them to you today and look at all of you successful people in this industry. Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”‘
Nyad praised Bening, who was not in attendance, for bringing her “tour de force, passion of relentless fierce, unapologetic persistence” to the lead role in “Nyad.”
Foster shared the three things that Nyad told news crews after accomplishing her swim: “One: Never give up. Two: You’re never too old to chase your dreams. And Three: you may think that swimming is a solitary sport but it takes a team.”
For all of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2023 coverage, click here.