On December 12, the students of P.S. 185 in Bay Ridge packed the school auditorium for a speech and Q & A session from historic swimmer Diana Nyad, who on August 31 became the first person successfully to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage.
The children’s enthusiasm to catch a glimpse of the former member of the USA Swimming National Team was palpable. Before Nyad’s grand entrance, a tribute video was played which featured students discussing their own goals, which included becoming doctors, lawyers and athletes. They also discussed that by learning about the determined swimmer, they learned never to give up on those dreams.
Kids chanted Nyad’s name at a high decibel when she finally arrived. The personable Nyad shook hands of the avid fans. She was touched by the raucous ovation. “I’ve been to the Oval Office to meet President Obama and he congratulated me personally,” explained Nyad. “I have been able to sit down with Oprah Winfrey for two hours. Many good things have happened to me but, you know the truth? Looking in your faces and seeing your respect and desire to live a wonderful life, this day means as much to me as all those wonderful honors.”
Principal of P.S. 185 Kenneth Llinas displayed his gratitude for Nyad visiting his students, who have spent nearly four months studying her inspirational story.
“We’ve been talking about how we can face our own failures and how can we overcome our own obstacles,” he told Nyad. “The fact that you said you would actually come to our school proves to the children that you’re not just a person who happens to live in California who has courage, that there’s something about you and in your heart that says that you would come to visit us 3,000 miles from where you live.”
Throughout the afternoon, select students gave speeches on what the day meant to them personally. And during the Q & A portion of the appearance, Nyad also gave a candid portrayal of her journey through her 110-mile swim.
She attempted to accomplish the record-setting swim four times prior to reaching her goal.
“There were sharks and jelly fish with the world’s most dangerous venom. They will kill you,” she said. “I didn’t want to fail. It crushed my spirit. But in the end, I was proud that my team and I went in and tried and failed because we had faith that it would happen. We were proud even during failure because that journey was worth taking.”
She also recalled hallucinating during the long swim, envisioning the Taj Mahal was in her sight, though it clearly wasn’t. Nyad was aided by a support team of 35 individuals.
Towards the end of the meet-and-greet, Nyad was presented with flowers, P.S. 185 apparel and a scrapbook filled with personalized messages from the students.
Nyad, who just signed a book deal, left the youngsters with the valuable lesson that without struggle or sacrifice, there is no reward. “You’re going to come across obstacles,” she told the youngsters. “Nothing worthwhile in this life is easy. You’re going to discover that you have to work hard and have a plan and have good team around you who you trust. And you will find your way.”