Go Away With … Diana Nyad

Photo credit: Walter Michot/Miami Herald/MCT

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
June 14, 2011

Diana Nyad is back in the news. In the next few weeks, the swimming legend is going to attempt a 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida — a feat she failed to accomplish in 1978 when she was in her late 20s. The 61-year-old athlete won worldwide fame in 1975 when she made a record-setting swim around Manhattan in less than eight hours. Four years later, Nyad set a distance record for swimming nonstop over open water from Bimini to Florida. When Nyad turned 60, she began thinking about the swim that eluded her.

“I didn’t really swim for 30 years, but then I started training again with this goal in mind,” Nyad says. “I can do it. I’m not worried about being in my 60s now. That’s just a number. It’s not a negative connotation to me.”

Q. What is the most beautiful place you went swimming?

A. I was born in New York, so the city is my soul. I can look down the Hudson River on a gorgeous spring day and look at that beautiful body of water. But really, there are so many special places, like Patagonia (in Argentina). I was working out at a gym in New York City in the 1970s and Al Pacino was there working out, too. He came over — very stealth-like, like one of the characters he plays in films — and he said to me in a real thick New York accent, “I hate to bother you while you’re working out, but what is the most beautiful ocean you ever saw?” At that point, I said it was the Indian Ocean. It was the color of Paul Newman’s eyes.

Q. Where would you never go for vacation?

A. Any place cold! I hate winter and I’m not a skier or a snowboarder. The closer to the equator I am, the happier I’ll be. That’s one of the reasons I moved to California. I went to Lake Forest College (in Illinois) and it was a great school and a great experience for me and I got to see a lot of Chicago, which is a beautiful city. But I just can’t believe how cold it gets when the wind blows like that. People have a choice. Why would anyone in this day and age choose to live in the cold? (Laughs.)

Q. What are some of your favorite places?

A. I tend to like big, urban environments. My mom was from Paris and I know that city very well. I would never turn down a trip to Paris, even if it were just for two days. It’s just magical and beautiful there. Paris is art and poetry all wrapped into one place. I didn’t used to love London so much but now I do. Hong Kong is a great place. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was beautiful. I know the Italian countryside pretty well — Tuscany, Umbria. I love Southern France very much, too. Provence is gorgeous.

Q. How much is traveling a part of your life?

A. I look at the globe and am happy to say that I’ve traveled around a lot of this planet. I have a Greek-Egyptian father and a French mother and we traveled all over. I saw quite a bit when I was young. I was an athlete in my 20s so I traveled a lot for sports as well. In the 1980s, I started working for ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and covered table tennis in Tokyo, the World Cup ski finals in San Moritz (Switzerland), the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii and the Iditarod dog races in Alaska. It was a perk of the job.

Q. Did you fill up your passport when you hosted the public radio show “The Savvy Traveler”?

A. No! They told me that I would never travel less than working on this show and they were right! I stayed home and received stories from the reporters who were on the road. My passport barely got stamped during that time.

Q. Where would you like to visit that you haven’t explored yet?

A. I have a map with those little pins that are stuck to all the places you’ve been to. My map is all covered but there are still places I need to go to. I don’t know Chile or Scandinavia at all. I’ve never been to Prague.

© 2011 JAE-HA KIM


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