Thursday, March 16, 2017

Meeting Diana Nyad

LUCY BURDETTE: I am always snatching bits of reality to fit into my fiction. Sometimes they spin back into my life in ways I never imagined.

photo from Wikipedia
Did you happen to see a clip of the swimmer Diana Nyad splash ashore on Smathers Beach in Key West a few years ago? At 64 years old, she completed the swim from Cuba to Key West—110 miles—on her fifth try. The first four times she had to turn back because of bad weather, poisonous jellyfish, and sharks. When she crawled out of the water onto the beach, her face was so swollen from jellyfish stings her own mother wouldn’t have recognized her. Here’s what she said to the crowd that had gathered:

“I have three messages for you:

We should #NeverEverGiveUp

You’re #NeverTooOld to chase your dreams

It’s #NeverASolitarySport … it’s a team!”

When I wanted my main character Hayley Snow’s mother to have a bigger role in my series, I immediately thought of Diana. What if Janet Snow admired her daughter’s tenacity as she went about figuring out how to do what she loved, and yearned to do the same in her own life? Wouldn’t Diana Nyad be a perfect role model? And so when Janet explains her decision to open a catering business in Key West to her daughter Hayley, she invokes Diana.**

photo by Bill Carito
Fast forward to this past December, when my sister gave a talk at the Key West library about her trip to Standing Rock. After the presentation, a woman approached and invited her to be a guest of honor at the International Women’s Flag Football event, sponsored by Kelly McGillis, and headlined by Diana Nyad. My sister wasn’t able to make the date in January so she suggested I might be invited. 

And so I was booked to give a talk, and walk in the parade following the opening ceremony. (A parade!) I worked on a very short version of my “inspirational talk,” featuring some wisdom from psychologists about goal-setting, and examples from my career about persistence and getting knock flat but scrambling up to face the next hurdle. And then I got excited about meeting Diana. (Naturally, I planned to bring her a signed copy of the book in which she appeared.) And I worried about whether I had the nerve to be a parade celebrity.

The day before event day, I texted my host, Diane, and told her I didn't need to be in the parade.



"But we had a banner made for you!" 

photo by Bill Carito

Okay. I convinced my husband and three friends to go to the venue with me, a drag bar, this being Key West. (Thanks Bill and Barb and Steve and John!) Instead of the young to middle-aged women I was expecting in the audience, the open area around the bar was crammed with squirming girls. With only minutes to spare, I adjusted my talk the best I could to suit the attention spans of 10-year-old girls, who were most anxious to perform in the team dance contest which was to follow. I finished, the girls danced, and Diana was ushered in from the airport.


Lucy with Diana


Her fabulous and inspiring talk could be summed up with the same three points she made when she came out of the water. She reminded the girls in the audience that while there are stars out on the field, behind every star is a team. 

She mentioned that when she turned 60, she felt a jolt, realizing how much of her life had gone by. And she remembered something a friend told her as she was preparing to race in an Olympic swimming trial: As long as you don't leave one fingernail of effort out in the pool, you will be happy with the results.

What did I learn from this? Take a good look at what you’re doing in your life and ask yourself: Is this is the way I want to spend the rest of my years and my talents? 

If not, fix it!



And, if you’re asked to be in a parade, go for it!

Who is your role model and what have you learned from them?


**Hayley Snow in DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS:

Lucy explains the book to Diana
I am crazy about my mother, honest. But it had still been a shock when she announced she’d rented a place in Key West for the winter season. Wouldn’t it be so much fun to spend Christmas in paradise together? And New Year’s...and Martin Luther King day...and Valentine’s Day...you get the picture. Mom had followed Diana Nyad’s attempts to swim from Cuba to Key West with rapt attention. When Diana overcame sharks, jellyfish, rough water, and advancing age to complete her 110 mile swim on her fifth try, at age 64, Mom took it personally.
            “Diana says we should never give up,” she announced on the phone a couple of months ago. “Why not be bold, be fiercely bold and go out and chase your dreams?”
            Mom had been a little down since the summer because her fledgling catering company had not taken off the way she’d hoped. She was an amazing and inventive cook, but the business part of owning a business eluded her. For her first five catering events, cooking with only the highest quality ingredients, she’d lost money rather than making it. A lot of money. Even her new boyfriend, Sam, who was supportive beyond any reasonable expectation, had suggested she take a few steps back and reconsider her plan.
            “Why not? You should go for your dream too,” I remember saying. “That’s exactly what you told me when I lost my bearings: Keep putting yourself out in the universe and eventually the wind will fill your sails.” I stopped myself from trotting out more metaphysical homilies--I hadn’t wanted to hear too much advice when I was feeling down; Mom probably didn’t either. “What do you have in mind?”
            “I’m thinking of coming to Key West for the winter!”
            Whoa. If that was her dream, who was I to stop her? But my big solo adventure was about to turn into How I Met Your Mother.



39 comments:

  1. What an amazing story, Lucy . . . and how exciting for you to march in the parade!
    I remember reading about Diana’s attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West and of her eventual success. Good for her! Everyone should hear her three messages . . . .

    My role model? My mom.
    From her I learned the value of integrity, gratitude, and commitment.
    I learned the importance of family and that, no matter how little I had, I always had enough to share.
    I learned about courage, how to keep going, even when the going was staggeringly difficult.
    And I learned to do the right thing always, no matter what . . . .

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    1. wow Joan, what amazing messages from your mother! thanks so much for sharing them... xo

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  2. The end of your post gave me the shivers, Lucy. My dear friend Susan died of brain cancer at age 55 four years ago. She'd had one scant year since diagnosis. I looked at my life and wondered almost exactly the same thing as your "Is this is the way I want to spend the rest of my years and my talents? If not, fix it!" I asked myself, if I find out I have only a year left to live, do I want to be writing technical documentation - or murder mysteries? The answer was clear. I changed jobs to become a full-time fiction writer and did not look back. It might sound odd to say that Susan's death was my role model, but it was certainly the push I needed.

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    1. It's strange isn't it, what can propel us into a new direction suddenly? You sure did grab the message and run with it! I imagine Susan would be proud to know she'd had that effect...

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    2. I know she would. Sigh. I'd rather have her here and have figured it out some other way, though...

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  3. My aunt was a big role model for me. My mother (her sister) was a smart, loving woman, but timid when it came to pushing the boundaries. Not Aunt Bobbie. She had a career when that was frowned on, remained single (but had lovers) when her whole generation settled down and had babies, traveled widely, alone or with friends, and generally lived her life as if it was the best adventure ever. I will never forget the day she called me to announce--at the age of 81--that her hair had gone "completely blonde." Cool, I said, but why? Her answer was simple: it was a better match to the leather upholstery in her new Cadillac. The she asked my advice on the best cities to stop in between San Francisco, where she lived, and New Orleans, where she was headed on her next epic road trip. Many times, when bold opportunities have presented themselves to me, I've asked myself what Bobbie would have done. While my mother might have begged me to stay safe and not overreach, Bobbie would have gone for it, and so have I. It has made the trip ever so much more interesting and I hope, when I hit my eighties, I'm still game for zooming off in a hot new car toward that next adventure, just over the horizon.

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    1. Oh Gigi, what a fantastic story! so glad you had your aunt as that kind of role model--and that the lessons took. May we all ride in your convertible with blonde hair flowing in the wind!

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    2. Gigi, I have an Aunt Bobbie, too, who is equally badass, but in a completely different way. Mine started out as a nun, but when she came home to recuperate from Scarlet fever, just before her final vows, she ran into a boy she'd known in high school, now a CIA station agent, home visiting. She ditched the convent, married Ray, and went with him to Dakar. They lived in Africa for several years, and Australia, and London, and had two kids. She has Alzheimer's now, but the last time I saw her lucid she still had a mouth like a longshoreman.

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    3. Hooray for Aunt Bobbies! Karen, yours sounds like a pip. Both our Bobbies clearly showed us there were lots of ways to be interesting adult women, in an age when conventional society and the media weren't offering many options. As for my car . . . well, okay, it's not a ragtop, but it IS a candy-apple-red Mustang GT. You ladies are invited for a ride any time you're in this part of Texas.

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  4. What an amazing story, Lucy, and how lucky to have met Diane Nyad. (I've long wondered: is Nyad her real last name? Because a Naiad, pronounced the same, is a water spirit!)

    Please tell us you got to keep the fabulous banner!

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    1. That's a cool coincidence, the water spirit! I definitely got to take the banner home. We roll it out whenever guests come, for show and tell. We can't figure out what else to do with it!!

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  5. So many inspiring stories! I think often of one of my mom's best friends--a woman who endured an alcoholic, abusive husband for far too long. At 60 she divorced him, bought herself a motorcycle and rode cross-country to Arizona. After that, she went where the wind and her motorcycle took her! And Lucy, I'd probably go to sleep with that banner wrapped around me!! You rock!

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    1. Thanks for sharing the motorcycle story Flora--I am scared to death of them, but it sounds like she'd faced the worst of life and was ready for a grand adventure.

      Isn't the banner a hoot?

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  6. Diana Nyad! Oh thank you, Lucy/Roberta, for bringing this guest to us today. I suspect all of us have our own role models, teachers, coaches, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, even daughters. However, Diana, you are a role model for us all. I suspect any of us who have reached your age and beyond are gobsmacked by what you have accomplished, even though all the Reds are certainly more than I'd ever hope to be.

    Thank you for showing all women, young and old, what can happen if you put your mind to it.

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    1. And Lucy/Roberta, you definitely rock! Also please tell your sister how much I admire what she did and is doing re Standing Rock, another role model for us all.

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    2. Yes my sister is a wonderful, spirited fighter for the environment and all living things.

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  7. So what did Diana think about her inspiring turn in the book?

    My inspiration is my daughter. She's the fiercest, most loving, badassiest, most open creature ever possible.

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    1. I think she got a kick out of it:). Her friend Bonnie said she started to read the book later that night. Haven't heard anything since!

      Aimee, love that your daughter is such a great inspiration!

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  8. A friend of mine started doing triathlons when she was 30 - and had to learn how to swim. She blogs regularly about facing her gremlins and putting herself out there in the universe because "amazing things happen when you show up." She'd followed Diana Nyad's journey very closely and she'd be very jealous you got to meet Diana.

    Of course you were in the parade and kept the banner. I would too (well, as long as they could provide a car for me to ride it or the parade route was very short).

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Diana was so warm and accessible--Mary if your friend gets the chance to go to one of her events, tell her she won't regret it!

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  9. I so enjoyed being in your entourage for this event, Lucy. It was like our annual Little League kickoff back home, but in a drag bar. So Key West. And you were fabulous and Diana Nyad was fabulous.

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    1. You guys were such good friends to bob along with the river of unusually unusual Key West events:). It WAS like a little league kickoff, only with DIANA NYAD:)!!

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  10. Love, love the banner, "Famous Writer"! So glad you had this amazing experience, Roberta.

    One of my inspirations is a high school friend of my husband's. Roger was home from his first year in college, relaxing at the park with a girlfriend and a buddy. The buddy urged Roger to take his girlfriend for a spin on his new motorcycle, which he did. And crashed into a tree less than two hundred yards later. That was 1968, and Roger has been a paraplegic ever since.

    However, that hasn't stopped him from having a full life. Pre-internet, Roger corresponded with women all over the world, and eventually married an Australian woman, with whom he shared his four-family apartment building in Florida. Since then he's been married twice more, to a Filipina, and now to a lovely woman from Colombia, who clearly adores him. He's had various businesses, and used to travel between Florida and Ohio every summer to escape the heat, driving his customized van.

    Roger has indomitable spirit, and has never given up, despite severe health challenges over the years. If I ever get bummed out about letting it just think of how much Roger has been through, and I shake out of it!

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    1. that is an inspiring story, and could have been such a tragedy...frightening how a person's world can change in an instant...

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  11. How fun for you, although I'm sure finding out your audience wasn't adults at the last minute was a bit nerve wracking. Love that banner for your parade appearance, too!

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    1. thanks Mark, definitely nerve-wracking! I've taught mystery-writing to some 5th grade classes in the past, so it wasn't as shocking as it could have been:).

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  12. Thank you, Lucy, for the great post! I was needing some inspiration this morning and you provided it. One of the things I love most about the Hayley books is Janet, and the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship.

    I am inspired by so many people--all of you Reds, for starters. And wonderful friends, like Gigi (who totally rocks), and my friend Resa, who has started a whole new career at almost sixty and also does kick-ass martial arts and climbs mountains. I could go on and on, but I think my biggest inspiration is my daughter. She's smart, successful, kind, funny, and always ready for new challenges. Oh, and she's a terrific mom.

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    1. thanks Debs, and back at you! it's wonderful to have a gang of inspiring women in our lives...

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  13. Lucy, that banner is fantastic! I think that instead of wearing a nametag at conferences, you should just wrap yourself in that! It would announce your importance and keep you warm!

    My mom is definitely my inspiration, and I would add my sisters to the list. They are all smart, funny, kind, and competent. If I were stuck on a desert island with them, I have no doubt we'd get stuff done!

    Has Diana embarked on a new swimming challenge? What's left after her Key West/Cuba feat?!

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    1. LOL Ingrid, that's an idea:). I should have mentioned, Diana's new project is to get Americans walking. The website is everwalk.com and here's what they say about it: Diana and Bonnie want to turn America into a nation of walkers; an EverWalk Nation - where millions of people commit to getting away from their screens and into the great outdoors to walk – for mindfulness, for fitness, and for fun.

      The two of them walked around the perimeter of Key West while they were in town. we had tons of things scheduled that weekend or we would have joined them!

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  14. I love the ocean, but my idea of swimming in it is to wade through the shallows, not going much above my ankles, watching for those unexpected waves that can soak you. So, I am in awe of Diana Nyad's accomplishments, fighting all those elements of danger and discomfort, not to mention the sheer feat of swimming that far. What an exciting event that must have been for you, Lucy. And, what a great banner!

    My inspirations are my older sister who died from cancer twelve years ago and my sister-in-law who is valiantly fighting a rare liver cancer now. I took the last walk my sister ever took with her, to her mailbox and back. It was a struggle for here, but she was determined to make it. For her, it was as daunting as Diana's swim. When I have to walk a ways today, I remember my sister and that walk and never complain. Then, my sister-in-law, who is twenty years younger than I am, is sick and in pain, but she pushes on and doesn't complain, still being one of the sweetest people I've ever met. When there's something that I don't especially want to do, an outing or event, I think of her, and I do it for her, knowing how much she would love to feel like getting out and doing things with her beautiful twin daughters, who are seniors in high school, and her son, who is in college.

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    1. Wow Kathy, those two women have really made a difference for your life--and good for you, for being ready to accept the message!

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  16. What an inspiring story about Diana Nyad! It's never too late to try a new challenge and never give up!

    Lucy: Loved the photo of you walking with the "Famous Author" banner.

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    1. thanks Grace! I don't think my girls had any idea who Diana was, and certainly not me. One got tired at the end so I took her place carrying the banner:).

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  17. I adore the banner! Everyone should have the opportunity to be in a parade with a similar banner in their honor!!!
    Libby Dodd

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  18. Love the banner! This is such a great post, Lucy. So many women have been role models for me that I can't possibly name them all. So as I run from panel to panel here at Left Coast I'll just say my fave quote from Ruth Gordon: Never give up and never, under any circumstances, face the facts!

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    1. Have a great time in Hawaii Jenn! Wish we all were there

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