This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
This past Monday night, in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York, I was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. I tell you this, not to brag. Truth be told, I am awash with humility. I've been attending this Hall of Fame dinner for close to thirty years. It's hosted by Billie Jean King and her Women's Sports Foundation. I've long admired their work, the advocacy of girls and women playing sports. Their research proves beyond question that girls who play sports rise above the collective low self-esteem that plagues women in our culture. I have sat in the audience of that dinner, tears streaming down my face many a time, as I watched Wilma Rudolph and Nadia Comaneci and Billie Jean and Chris Evert and Peggy Fleming and Florence Griffith and Jackie Joyner Kersee and Amy Alcott and the women baseball players of World War II--basically all the superstars of our time--go into the Hall of Fame. They have all spoken of their passion, their discipline, their love of their respective sports, their grand Olympic and Wimbledon moments. I have watched them in awe and admiration, filled with the emotions that flood with the compelling stories of sport: the pursuit of excellence...an individual's courage to put all of her best self forward for a decade or maybe two. The bittersweet aspect of sport is that we must retire when we're young. But the power of sport is that we do take all those life lessons, such as the alert, awake immersion in the moment, with us for the rest of our days.
So this year it was my turn. It was my night. Like most of us, I don't spend much time reminiscing. I retired from swimming the day I turned 30. I was worried for a short while that I would never feel that black-and-white intensity of purpose again, but I quickly learned that the intensity wasn't in the sport. It was in me and, 27 years later, I live this current life with the same gusto with which I once swam across oceans.
I decided to take my moment Monday night, appearing in front of 1300 people, all of whom work in the world of sport, to connect my former life as an athlete with my post-athlete days. The rigors of marathon swimming serve as such poignant metaphor for making that connection. You are swimming, sometimes for as long as two continuous days. Day turns to night. Night turns to day. Another night comes and on the third morning, you take that last stroke to touch the opposite shore. Mile after mile, stroke after stroke, enduring the adversities of cold and heavy seas and jellfish stings, you refuse to give up.
In the end, I told the crowd that when the day comes for me to leave this Earth, I feel sure that I will be able to say that I didn't have time to do all things I had wanted to do, that I certainly didn't succeed at everything that I did do, but ALL that I did do, I did with that same refusal to give up that drove me across the 102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Florida and the other bodies of water I crossed back in the '70's.
The greatest woman athlete alive, Martina Navratilova, inducted me into the Hall of Fame. I stood backstage, stunned to hear her say that when she first defected from Czeckoslovakia, she was fascinated by the great American athletes and that I was one of her heroes. Come on. Does a Hall of Fame induction get any better than that?
As this week goes by, I am slowly floating down from Cloud Nine. But I assure you that it was night I will treasure forever.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.