Niagara Gazette

September 4, 2013

GLYNN: Nyad tried double-crossing of Lake Ontario in '74

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When I heard the news flash on CNN, the first words that came to mind were "Finally! She made it. What a remarkable lady!"

It seemed for the next several hours everyone was talking about Diana Nyad, 64, who had completed her 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida in 52 hours. And the first person to do so without a shark cage. She had failed in four earlier attempts, starting at age 28.

I first met her in August 1974, when she was in this area to prepare for a marathon swim. If things had worked out, she would have been the first person to make a double-crossing — north to south — of Lake Ontario. That's a 64-mile trip, from Toronto to Port Dalhousie, Ont., and back.

At that time, I had been working as a correspondent — called a stringer in that era — for the Toronto Globe & Mail. Many of the swimmers then launched their 32-mile lake crossing near the U.S. Coast Guard Station-Niagara,Youngstown or from Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Ontario side. 

Diana entered the water at 10:45 a.m. that late August night and arrived in Port Dalhousie at 4:20 a.m. the next day. She rested for about 16 minutes — official time allowed by English Channel swim rules that she observed — and resumed the arduous swim. But in two hours and five miles out from Dalhousie, she suddenly stiffened out and couldn't move. Her veteran trainer, Cliff Lumsdon, jumped in and pulled Nyad from the water.

She was depressed about that failure in 1974. Diana also was bitter, friends said, that no one had even offered her a single prize for her to even try the lake swim both ways. She thought that perhaps it was only because she was an American and that the Canadians didn't want to be upstaged. After all, it was a Toronto school girl, Marilyn Bell, 16, who had captured the country's attention in Sept. 9,1954, when she set set the record for swimming across the lake in 20 hours and 56 minutes. 

Fast forward to Sept. 2, 2013, and there's Nyad completing the rugged Cuba-to-Florida journey, her tongue and lips swollen so much her speech was slurred. Her face appeared slightly blistered by the special mask she wore to prevent jellyfish stings. As she struggled to walk out of the water, she urged the cheering onlookers on shore: "We should never give up." And she added: "You're never too old to chase your dreams."

When someone asked how she managed to persevere despite the monotony, the suffering. sore muscles, and the monotonous routine, Nyad explained that she performed mental tricks to keep herself going, counting her strokes in English, German, Spanish and French.

And she won that classic mental struggle, she said, by imagining that she was using her left hand to push Cuba backward and her right hand to bring Florida closer.

Now that's what you call an innovative strategy.


SIGN UP TIME: The History Center in Lockport is planning its fall bus trip on Oct. 19 to several sites in Lackawanna including the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, Our Lady of Victory Basilica, and lunch at Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant, a favorite Western New York dining spot since the Hall of Fame wrestler started the business in 1965. The all-day tour cost is $65 for History Center members and $70 for non-members. For more information and reservations, call 434-7433.


TRIVIA QUIZ: What year was the New York State Lottery legalized? (Answer Sunday).

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.