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Diana Nyad & the Importance of Failure

The rest of us may have forgotten or given up on her quest, but distance swimmer Diana Nyad reminded us Monday that failure is often the secret to success. 

Nyad, 64, accomplished her lifelong dream and a world record when she became the first person to swim 110 miles between Cuba and Key West without the aid of a shark cage or flippers.

Her achievement took 52 hours, 54 minutes and 18.6 seconds, but anybody who has paid the slightest attention to the relentless athlete knows this accomplishment has been years in the making. 

Nyad unsuccessfully tried four times before to cross the treacherous waters. Each time she failed, she used the experience to come back smarter and stronger. 

She learned to repel venomous jellyfish with a facemask and protective clothing. She worked with a pulmonologist to control her asthma. She enlisted divers carrying special zappers to ward off sharks. 

Each ill-fated attempt brought new-found knowledge about the most efficient wet suit, the most beneficial fuel for her body. 

Failure sucks. It’s painful, disappointing, temporarily debilitating. 

And it’s part of the learning process.

As parents, our instincts are often to protect our kids from experiencing the pain of failure. 

But the next time it stalks one of my kids, I will remember Diana Nyad crossing the Florida Straits and I will simply tell my daughter this:

Kick, kick, kick.