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!
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.