August 10, 2011

Diana Nyad, 61: The “Prime of Her Life”

“Cuba-to-Florida Quest Defeats Swimmer at 61,” the headline reads in today’s New York Times. Diana Nyad, famed marathon swimmer, tried to make her way from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage in one go.  Her shoulder cramped.  She kept swimming. She had an unexpected bout of asthma.  She kept swimming. She began vomiting uncontrollably.  She stopped swimming. Her handlers pulled her from the water, and that was that.

I want to be supportive of pretty much anything anyone does to challenge themselves, but this venture struck me as kinda dumb. But, then, I don’t get mountain climbing, either. So what if you can swim from Cuba to Florida? Or climb K2? Seems like a huge waste of money, plus it’s really dangerous. And you could leave people who love you feeling awful forever if something bad were to happen. Like if you were to die.

In addition to my usual “hunh,” I didn’t respect Nyad’s motives.  She told reporters she was feeling bad about getting old. Or older. Whatever. She announced that “60 is the new 40” and that she wanted to do something that would prove she was in great shape physically and in better shape mentally than ever. “People my age must try to live vital, energetic lives,” she said. “We’re still young. We’re not our mothers’ generation at 60.” And this: “I’m standing here at the prime of my life; I think this is the prime, when one reaches this age.” I rather lost patience when Nyad counseled to “[b]e your best self.” Didn’t Oprah retire, already?

In yesterday’s newspaper I read about 70+ year olds clamoring for elective plastic surgery. I don’t want anyone discriminating against my saggy old self. But, really, when do I get to let go a little? When can my “best self” admit that it’s not in its prime any more, that it can’t do what it did at 20? When can my “best self” have a bad knee and crow’s feet?