Deep in the ocean, stung by jellyfish and swallowing gallons of salty water, Diana Nyad achieved her lifelong goal as an athlete: swimming from Cuba to Florida.

Her fifth and final attempt, on Sept. 2, 2013, Nyad reached Key West, Florida, after swimming from Havana, Cuba — roughly 110 miles and about 53 hours.

Diana Nyad in Pool

Photo: Courtesy of Finis, Inc.

“After four failures, difficult, grueling, training, near death on one experience, finally on the fifth time, at age 64, I made it. I have something epic about my personality, something that makes me want to live life to the tenth degree,” shares Nyad during her Find a Way book signing.

Never giving up, Nyad is living proof that if you set your mind to something, you can accomplish it — no matter how many times or how long it may take you.

Spending endless hours swimming and cross training, to reach her lifelong goal, Nyad had to surround herself with the right support, tools and mental stamina.

While ocean swimming takes skill and training, Nyad shares a few other tips to help you survive your next long-distance swim challenge.

Listen to Music

Photo courtesy of Finis, Inc.

Photo: Courtesy of Finis, Inc.

According to a study done by at Brunel University in the U.K., music can improve an athlete’s endurance up to 15 percent.

In addition, scientists found that that music can help athletes feel more positive during high-intensity exercises — especially when close to fatigue — because the beats of the music keep the rhythmic pattern and energy up.

For long swims, Nyad definitely uses music to keep her going. Beatles being a big part of her go-to music, Nyad loads up her Finis Duo with music that keeps her going.

Maintain Mental Toughness

SEPTEMBER 2: Diana Nyad steps onto Smathers Beach in Key West on September 2, 2013, becoming the first person to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fl. without a shark cage. Credit: Chuck Wagner /

Diana Nyad steps onto Smathers Beach in Key West on Sept. 2, 2013, becoming the first person to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida without a shark cage. Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Wagner/Shutterstock

No matter the distance, an open-water swim is hard. And there is a way for you to achieve it: keep mentally strong.

“I think when it comes to will and going through pain, it’s really a clear decision to me to say, well I could quit, that would feel nice. I wouldn’t be cold anymore, I wouldn’t be hurting anymore. But then, how would I feel? Where’s my character? Will I feel better? Probably be disappointed. You’ve got to ask yourself, am I going to die? No. Am I going to hurt or suffer a bit? Yes.

“However, it will be over at some point and aren’t I going to feel better and feel like I lived a bigger life than quitting and being comfortable? For me it’s easy, getting through those moments is easy,” says Nyad.

You’ll go through discomfort, and when you do, use the saying H.O.P.E: Hold on pain ends. And remember, at the end of the day you’ll have unbelievable bragging rights.

So keep telling your mind that the challenge will be over soon enough, and you will get through it. Keep a positive mind; say, “I can” instead of “I can’t.”

Balance Your Nutrition Intake

Swimming burns a great deal of calories, that’s why it’s vastly important to remember that calories equal energy.

And with any nutrition plan, you need to test what works for your stomach — since being in supine position can make you feel a bit woozy.

A balanced diet, packed with protein, is ideal to keep your body healthy.  

“Honestly, it was a matter of common sense. I needed calories and protein to keep my energy (and body) going. I burned about 700 calories an hour, I needed to eat but being in the supine position and swallowing gallons of salt water made me a bit nauseous. Bonnie would feed me fists of plain pasta during my swim and I would have sips of coke to settle my stomach,” says Nyad.

Train Smart: Tools to Use for Open-Water Swimming

While fins and paddles can help you achieve improve your swim technique, a swim tracker can help you boost your performance.

To help monitor your endurance, the SwimSense Live or the Fitbit Flex 2 are two swim-friendly trackers that are easy to use and deliver data to help you gain insight on your performance.

In addition, if you tackle the waters during early mornings or evenings, it’s important to keep this in mind: Sharks and jelly fish are attracted to light. While you need a light to see in the dark waters, use a red light because sharks and jelly fish don’t attract to red light.

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