Let’s face it, America is a youth-obsessed place. This has long been obvious in such areas as entertainment and advertising. But it is increasingly true in a host of other industries that are turning to a younger, more tech-savvy (and lower-paid) workforce to cope with changing times.
So the sight of Diana Nyad, 64, coming ashore in Key West on Labor Day must be especially gratifying to those who are feeling more expendable, less relevant, or just plain old.
It’s not only that Nyad accomplished this amazing feat: swimming for nearly 55 hours and more than 100 miles through shark- and jellyfish-infested waters from Cuba to Florida. It’s that she accomplished at 64, one year short of Medicare eligibility, what she first failed at when 28.
She succeeded this time after learning from her four previous attempts at the Straits of Florida. The broader message is this: If the importance of experience and mental toughness is easy to overlook in endurance sports, perhaps it is being overlooked in other pursuits, too.
Nyad also likely benefited from the skills she developed outside her singular pursuit.
To help support her swimming habit, she became an uncommonly good motivational speaker. A typical speech might range from a candid account of being raped at 14 by her coach, to the humorous story of her first distance swim on Lake Ontario when she ended up in the hospital next to a man who had just crashed his speed boat.
She has also become an accomplished sports journalist. She wrote a 1999 book on NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, whose career never quite reached its potential. Her feat makes that pairing seem oddly reversed, kind of like when Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees in 1967.
These skills she developed out of the water helped her raise money, attract news media attention and put together a dedicated support team — all vital in a pursuit like hers.
Nyad is compelling testament to the wisdom and expertise that come with age to those who are persistent in the face of adversity. Her achievement should be studied not just in the sports world but also in schools, corporate offices and factory floors everywhere.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.
The Editorial Board, USA TODAY 7:24 p.m. EDT September 3, 2013