Be still my heart. I have been invited by President Obama and the White House to travel to Cuba with the President’s entourage for his historic visit there this Monday and Tuesday.
There are many in his invited group—-from prominent Cuban Americans out of Miami to a Congressional group to CEO’s of major American corporations—-so, believe me, I don’t consider myself special to the occasion.
But, President Obama told me himself, in my time with him in the Oval Office right after the successful Cuba Swim in 2013, that he considered my and my team’s many years of the swim quest a critical connection, human to human, between our two nations.
I have had Cuba in my heart since my childhood days near Miami, at the time of the Revolution. The Cuba Swim was much more than an athletic achievement for me. It was mostly an endeavor that drew on the profound strength of the human spirit. But it was also a bond between our country and that magical island just 100 miles away.
The President will attend several special events and we the entourage are invited to all of those, such as a baseball game between the Cuban National Team and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Internet sketchy on the island so not sure if I’ll be able to post much to Social Media from there…..but will give it a try.
My Cuba trip was all about President Obama’s visit. I’ve been going to Havana for forty years, starting back in 1978, but this particular trip educated me far more than ever before, in terms of the deep and varied layers of history, politics, economics and strong emotions swirling around the divide—and the potential full rapprochement—between our two nations.
Big news in the sports world these days.
Last Friday, the colorful character they called the nicest guy in tennis, Bud Collins, died. Bud helped me in my broadcast career, as he did countless others. You will search far and wide to find anybody who had a bad word to say about the constantly upbeat Bud….or to find anybody who can remember Bud ever having a malicious word to say about anybody else.
RIP Mr. Fancy Pants
The glorious career of 40-year-old superstar quarterback Peyton Manning has come to an end, the fairy tale ending complete, Peyton going out with a Super Bowl triumph recently his. He cried at his retirement words today, clearly defined by the game he has honored and played so well all these long twenty years. You set the bar, Peyton. We will not quickly forget you.
And today, in a highly unusual and I feel truly honorable move, legendary tennis champion Maria Sharapova announced that she will soon be suspended from her sport for taking performance enhancing drugs. When was the last time an athlete took the humble stance and admitted to doping? It’s always: “Not me. Must be a faulty test. Never in my life.”
But Maria stood tall today. She owned up to a big mistake. She apologized to her fans, to the sport itself. She did make a mistake but she gained a degree of admiration from me today by owning it.
I have a brilliant friend. Catherine Opie is one of the most dynamic photographers working today. The Opie body of work is not only stunning, piece by piece, from large evocative portraits to sweeping white-on-white landscapes of Minnesota ice houses, but also stunning in the breadth of the Opie intellectual and artistic vision over the years.
Last week’s LA Times feature story will clue you in to the heart and soul of Catherine’s choices.
Each and every Opie image is a bold work. Arresting. But the 700 Nimes Rd collection will blow your mind. When Elizabeth Taylor was still alive, she commissioned Catherine to photograph literally all her iconic belongings. Her Warhol portraits, her Krupp Diamond, her color-coded furs. Catherine spent six months at Elizabeth’s home, gingerly and respectfully portraying her belongings in a magically-lit tribute to the largesse of the Elizabeth Taylor mystique.
The Taylor photos:
We stand in front of a photograph and, even if we are pleased or moved or provoked, we sometimes feel we could ourselves have taken that very photo. This is not the case with an Opie image. There are hundreds and hundreds of famous Opie photos now, dating way back to a black-and-white self-portrait she took in front of her rural Ohio home at the age of seven. And when you stand in front of an Opie photograph, you have no mistaken hubris to think you could have been the artist who created that particular masterpiece.
What a deep honor it is, to have such a brilliant friend.
Spoke last Friday night to a high-energy crowd of millennials in NYC, called WeWork. They refuse to go the deadened cubicle route. They transform buildings into innovative, free work spaces where the collaborative and fluid environment prompts entrepreneurs to collaborate and inspire each other.
The building where I appeared for them is an old, storied JP Morgan space on Wall Street. WeWork gutted it down to expansive concrete floors. The sense of community, sharing software, marketing, and recruiting ideas is palpable.
WeWork is today the fastest growing company in the world, having quickly expanded to15 cities in four countries. I’m a fan.
Well, due to my evening-hour finish with WeWork, I must say I was caught in the blizzard nightmare of NYC and wound up somehow spending the night on the Dallas Airport floor, along with 60 or so other stranded passengers. Ah, the joys of life on the road.
How can I complain when many people suffered greatly through the storm and its aftermath.
Hope all you East Coasters are well on the way to full recovery!
You don’t have to be a football or even sports fan to take in the grand history of the Green Bay Packers. Bonnie and I had a ball, invited by Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements (his wife Queenie in middle of us here, under statue of the sage Coach Vince Lombardi). Coach Lombardi left us with many strong ideas. One that always hit me was his:
“Dreams are what drive us.”
Green Bay Wisconsin has a population of 104,000 and their beloved Lambeau Field sits almost the whole town, 80k.
The woman next to me at the game, age 44, has not missed a home game since she was five years old.
This is a unique sports town in that the citizens of Green Bay literally own the team. They vote on every decision made.
Bonnie a true Packers fan…note her clutching her coveted ball signed by Aaron Rodgers. We stood in front of Rodger’s locker on our private tour of the stadium, the only locker room in the NFL designed in an oval shape, not putting any star factor on any player.
The Packers are pure Americana, including the lovable cheese heads. It was 12 degrees at kickoff. We Californians, thin-blooded at this point, had feet and hand warmers, ski pants, triple hat gear. The Pack lost the last game of the regular NFL season but still live to play the Redskins this weekend.
Win or lose, we were in awe to be in Packer land.
And I even got to work out with one of my favorite Packers of all time, James Lofton.
Pre-order my new memoir Find a Way (in stores October 20), and receive a free signed limited edition poster!
Two years ago on September 2, 2013, my Xtreme Dream Teammates and I walked up onto a crowded Smathers Beach in Key West, FL, after swimming 110.86 miles from Havana, Cuba, in 52 hrs, 54 mins. Now, I am sincerely proud to present the story of this epic life adventure to the public in my memoir, Find a Way. The words I spoke to the crowd on the beach that day — Never Ever Give Up, You’re Never Too Old to Chase Your Dreams, It’s looks like a solitary sport, but it takes a Team — they came from my heart and I have now heard from literally millions of good people around the world, realizing this was not an athletic event. It was a moment that Everyman and Everywoman can take to your own lives, to live out your own dreams, to Find a Way to whatever other shore touches your soul.
Pre-order from one of the following retailers or your favorite local bookseller:
To receive your autographed poster, email an image of your pre-order receipt for Find a Way(in hardcover, ebook, or audio format) before midnight October 19, 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org along with:
Offer is limited to the first 100 entrants.
Watch an episode before and an episode after our NYC Nyad Swim for Relief event, which raises funds for AmeriCares Hurricane Sandy relief fund. Be sure to check your local listings,tweet me at @DianaNyad #SuperSoulSunday during the shows, and tell your friends! Until then, find out how you can get involved with our NYC Swim For Relief event by clicking here.
Labor Day was big this year for me and the Xtreme Dream Team.
First we returned to Havana for the year anniversary of our swim from Cuba to Florida. We have made many friends there over the years. They are huge sports fans in Cuba and they spared no energy nor kindness to our Team during each of our crossings, in terms of research, reports on the Havana coastal winds and currents, and entry/exit for our flotilla of boats. It touched my heart to be able to formally thank my dear friend, El Comodoro Jose Miguel Escrich (dark jacket) for the long list of essentials he worked hard to produce for us.
We were told there would be a celebration for us as well, but we had no earthly idea what would transpire.
For the first time in 30 years, the Cuban and American flags flew side by side in an official government building. For the first time in 30 years, the Star Spangled Banner played at an official government ceremony.
Our Team, all of us hands on hearts, cried openly when our National Anthem rang across the white marble floors. And then it took us by surprise, but the Cuban officials cried as well. They were moved to see how honored we were.
How proud I am to be the first American ever to receive the Cuban Sports Medal of Honor. Many of the great Cuban champion athletes were there, including 7-time World Champion heavyweight boxer Felix Savon.
Several of the Cuban political heavyweights conducted the ceremony. At the far left of the Cuban line is Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Vice President of the Council of State and Ministers. The gentleman pinning the medal on me is Cristian Jimenez, Minister of the Institute of Sport. And the elderly gentleman second from left is revered Jose Ramon Fernandez, a hero of the Cuban people, an early comrade of Fidel and Che, and one of the earliest Ministers of Education under the Castro regime. The Cuban education system is regarded as superior all around the world.
It was a special day for me, for our entire Team. Our Cuba Swim was never a political enterprise. But it was certainly a human statement of connection, our beautiful country to theirs.
All the speeches by the Cubans on this day were about the messages I carried with me across the ocean, around the world. “Never, Ever Give Up.”
Cuba is close to my heart. Always has been. Always will be. It was no accident that I chose this world record distance to be in this particular geography. Modern times are replete with the history across these Florida Straits. And that history was without question part of the story of my Cuba Swim.
This medal from the Cubans means the world to me.
And we had a ball in Havana. We went to the Swim start spot, where Bonnie had grabbed my shoulders a year before and said to me “Let’s Find a Way”. We danced salsa with our Cuban friends and this time enjoyed ourselves in high spirits, whereas I had always been on edge, almost out of my mind with adrenaline when at Marina Hemingway for the start those five times before.
And on the heels of the Cuban celebration came the icing on the Labor Day cake for us. We were then feted back in Key West, by the Mayor and the City and County Commissioners, with a beautiful bronze plaque that will live permanently at the very spot where we walked ashore a year prior, Smathers Beach..
My Team stood proud in their Find A Way shirts. I looked down the line (sorely missing our navigator John Bartlett, whom we lost last December) and beamed with admiration to remember the smarts and dedication and innovation these good people brought to the Xtreme Dream.
Key West is my home away from home. As I said to the crowd on Labor Day, most ultra athletes and adventurers wind up sequestering in a small village outpost as they wait for conditions. For climbers, it’s usually a Tibetan village. Well, my outpost was Key West and I hit the Expedition jackpot to be “stuck” in that idyllic town.
Not only is it post-card stunning, but the citizens of Key West jump to assist in every large and small way imaginable.
From Havana to Key West, last year it was a swim of 110.86 miles. This year it was a double-whammy celebration of sports achievement, of city-and-national spirit, of Team bonding.
It was a thrilling journey, the 35 years of chasing that Cuba Dream. And it’s been a thrilling year since the long-awaited walk up onto that faraway shore.
I am working on a memoir for Knopf. The new Key West theater, The Studios, will debut my one woman show ONWARD! February 19-22, 2015. I had a chance to meet President Obama in the Oval Office. And now the Cuba Sports Medal of Honor. Believe me, I am duly humble in light of all these inspired experiences. But it has been said that it’s not what you get when you achieve your dreams. It’s who you become. Spending Labor Day weekend with my Teammates reminded me that we took that epic journey to prove that reaching for the stars brings out character and courage and profound trust of your friends.
ONWARD, everybody, ever ONWARD!